Jacques-Louis David in 1815

Jacques-Louis David in 1815
1 record
Classically trained in Rome, Jacques-Louis David became the most prominent artist in France after his return to Paris in 1780. His painting style, remarkable for its clarity and accomplished craftsmanship, offered an alternative to the more decorative and playful rococo style prevalent in the late eighteenth century. The controlled rationalism of his compositions implied a moral tone that resonated with the revolutionary political ideas of a large segment of his public. During the revolution David put his talent to the service of the new regime, and eventually became Napoleon’s favorite and official artist.

The year 1815 marks a turning point in Jacques-Louis David’s career. On March 20th Napoleon escaped from prison on the island of Elba and triumphantly returned to Paris. Five days later David was reinstated as First Painter and signed an oath of fidelity to the emperor. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo on June 15, David hastily decamped for Switzerland, fearing the consequences of his unconditional dedication to the imperial regime. Though he returned to Paris in September, the political situation grew increasingly uncomfortable. In January 1816 the new king, Louis XVIII, issued an edict condemning to exile all those who had pledged allegiance to Napoleon. At the end of 1816 David left for Brussels, where he died in 1825.

It was against this troubled political background that David painted the portrait of Jean-Pierre Delahaye, his homme d’affaires—the last portrait he executed before leaving France.

- J. Patrice Marandel. (2006)