Tuesday, June 16


While looking through the collection at the Legion of Honor during my recent trip I spotted an odd portrait. The credited artist is Jacques-Louis David, my immediate response was "What?!?! No way! It's not even close to the Neoclassical history paintings he's famous for! Some forger told a good story to get that thing in here." My reference for style is David's "Oath of the Horatii" 1784, a painting that I wrote multiple essays on in college. Notice the clear gender roles; the men strong and angular, the women weeping and wilted by the wall. Most notably there is also a solid story line, thus the title given to David of "history painter."

Most of his paintings have a clear story line and are finished with tons of detail; here are some more stylistic examples.

Then there is this. The question remains in my mind, what? Compared with his other works, this one is almost Fauvist.

Note the large, unfinished, sections of color fields.

Not that Fauvism is bad, though it was the term which translates to "Wild Beasts" was initially intended to be an insult. I just don't understand how David went from being a leading Neoclassical painter to mimicking Matisse. Also, I can see the defense that he probably painted more than just history scenes in his life, which he certainly did. As an example, here is a portrait that is confirmed to be a Jacques-Louis David. I see some similarities with the other portrait, in composition at least, but the technique is so different it's ridiculous.

The plaque next to this painting explained that after his exile from France, he rebelled by developing an entirely new painting style, but his final painting is so much like his early work that I find that hard to believe. Bellow is his final painting, 'Mars Being Disarmed by Venus', completed at the age of 75. Of it he wrote, "This is the last picture I want to paint, but I want to surpass myself in it. I will put the date of my seventy-five years on it and afterwards I will never again pick up my brush." This does not sound like a man who would have been happy with a painting like the one I saw at the Legion of Honor; I call shenanigans.

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