Jacques Louis David (1748 – 1825) was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward classical austerity and severity and heightened feeling, harmonizing with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime. David later became a supporter of the French Revolution and friend of Maximilien Robespierre (1766 – 1794), and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic. Imprisoned after Robespierre’s fall from power, he aligned himself with yet another political regime upon his release: that of Napoleon, The First Consul of the French Republic. Though Napoleon granted David the title of Premier Peintre du Roi, David remained in exile in Brussels, where he painted The Coronation of Napoleon and his family as part of their efforts to cement French imperial pretensions on the European stage.

A leader in the neo-classical movement, Jacques-Louis David is best known for his monumental paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte, most notably the famous Napoleon Crossing the Alps. Born into a prosperous family in Paris, David initially embarked on a military career before turning to painting in 1774. He became an overnight success with his first public work, The Death of Socrates (1787), and went on to create a series of seminal paintings that brought the neo-classical style to the forefront of the late eighteenth century art world. David’s work was characterized by its clarity, simplicity and idealism, qualities that were in stark contrast to the more ornate and whimsical style of Rococo painting that preceded it.

While initially a supporter of the French Revolution, David eventually fell out of favour with the ruling Republican regime and was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror. He later regained favour under Napoleon Bonaparte, painting a series of now-iconic portraits of the Emperor as well as The Coronation of Napoleon and his family (1804-05). Following Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, David once again fell out of favour and spent his final years in exile in Brussels.

Jacques-Louis David was a highly influential artist who left a lasting mark on French painting. His work helped to define the aesthetic sensibility of the late eighteenth century and served as an important bridge between the Rococo period and the emerging Neo-classical style.