The French Neo-Classical artist Jacques Louis-David was born on August 1748 to a wealthy family but had an unusual childhood. Around the age of nine, he lost his father after he was murdered in a duel, leaving his mother no choice but to leave her child with his two uncles. They were both architects and strived for the young David to have the best education - hoping that he followed in the same career, as did his mother. Although he studied at the prestigious Collège des Quartre-Nations, in the University of Paris, David was not a model student. He was more interested in drawing and already wished to become a painter. He eventually followed the path he dreamed for himself, going against his family, and began to study with the Rococo painter François Boucher, one of the most popular painters of the time. But Boucher found it a better choice for David to study under Joseph-Marie Vien at the Royal Academy since Vien was more in tune with the Classical renewal happening in art.
During his time of studies, David entered the Prix de Rome - one of the most prestigious prizes of Academic art. He failed at his three first attempts, including The Combat of Mars and Minerva, resulting in a dreadful grudge against the Academy. The painter persisted and finally won the Prix de Rome in 1774. In October of the next year, David and his mentor Vien traveled to Italy, where they studied the artworks made by the masters of the XVII century, like Caravaggio and Poussin. Although David found the pieces stagnant, he completed more than ten sketchbooks with studies and drawings he gathered from his trip in which he would use as a reference for years to come. During this period he met Anton Raphael Mengs, one of the precursors of the Neo-Classical movements and a significant inspiration for David and his work.
In 1779, David took an influential trip to Pompeii which strengthened his belief in the power of Classical culture. He also studied the masters of the High Renaissance deeply, like Raphael. Tired of the pompous and frivolous style of the Rococo, David became a militant of the French Revolution, along with one of the most influential figures of the Revolution, the lawyer and politician, Maximilien Robespierre. The artist continued in the country to fight for what he believed in - the execution of Louis XVI. After the King’s execution, David created one of his greatest works, The Death of Marat; considered the Pieta of the Revolution. Robespierre eventually fell from power and David was taken to jail. After he was released, David found one of the most powerful allies he could have: Napoleon, France’s First Consul. The artist concluded works like Distribution of the Eagle in honor of the Emperor, representing the self-sacrifice needed for their superior and the glory of the battlefield. After Napoleon’s fall from power, David moved to Brussels and later to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Jacques Louis-David gave lessons to a large number of students during his life and participated in the Paris Salon for many years, becoming one of the most influential artists of XIX century France. The Neo-Classical master concluded his last work in 1824 entitled Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces. He passed away in December of 1825 at the age of 77 after being struck by a carriage while leaving the theater.