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Jacques-Louis David

1748 - 1825

Jacques-Louis David was the leading painter in France of the Neo-classical movement. He became a member of the Academy in 1783, winning fame in the 1780s with a series of paintings, including 'The Oath of the Horatii' (Paris, Louvre, 1785), notable for their austerity of design and theme. At the same time he became known for his accomplished portraits.

David was born in Paris and trained by the classicising artist Marie-Joseph Vien, before spending the years 1775-80 in Rome, where he returned during 1784-5. He took an active part in the Revolution of 1789, being elected a deputy to the new parliament, and he was instrumental in the abolition of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He was briefly imprisoned in 1794/5.

His successive images of Napoleon as general, consul and emperor helped to glorify the French leader. From the outbreak of the Revolution to the fall of Napoleon, David and the members of his studio exercised a major influence over the arts in France. After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 he continued to paint in exile in Brussels, where he died.