Art and Revolution

Norman Hampson

  • Jacques-Louis David by Anita Brookner
    Chatto, 223 pp, £25.00, November 1980, ISBN 0 7011 2530 6

In what her publishers claim to be the first monograph in English on David, Dr Brookner explains that she sees her book as a ‘preparation’ for more specialised studies at present under way in France and America. It is intended ‘for the general reader whose eye has been arrested by David’s images and whose mind has been haunted or irritated by their supernal energy and conviction’. This would seem to focus the centre of interest of the book on David’s ‘revolutionary’ period, from the ‘Oath of the Horatii’, completed in 1785, to the ‘Intervention of the Sabine Women’ and the portrait head of Bonaparte in 1798. Whatever the merits of the portraits that David painted throughout most of his career, it is not by these that the non-specialist is likely to remember him, and fine though some of them are, they are scarcely noteworthy for their ‘supernal’ energy. ‘Leonidas at Thermopylae’, executed between 1800 and 1814, should perhaps be added to the canon, but with this exception, the best-known works of David fall within the revolutionary period.

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