There is a new show on one of my favorite painters, Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, until April 24. I have read three reviews so far, but there are surely more to follow. Gloria Goodale's article (Artist who backed the wrong emperor, February 11) came out first, in the Christian Science Monitor:
Despite David's fame and influence on successive generations, no museum in the United States has hosted a show on the French artist. In 1989, the Louvre mounted a David retrospective, including canvases from his early career that are permanently installed there due to their sheer size. However, no exhibition has focused exclusively on the final 30 years of his career. With "Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile," scholars have put an end to this oversight, according to William Griswold, acting director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. "He was the primary image maker of Napoleon," he says, adding, it's time to address David's entire career. Curator Scott Schaefer says that he felt so strongly about the need for such a show that he made the mounting of this exhibition a condition of his employment when he was recruited by the Getty. "David's late works are incredibly moving and personal," he says, "this is a beautiful exhibition that has been a long time in gestation."Robert L. Pincus reviewed the show (Jacques-Louis David captured the lives, turmoil and times of France, February 17) for the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The show's chronology actually begins with David in prison, where, in 1794, he painted a self-portrait. The artist's posture is erect, his stare intense and he proudly displays brush and palette. His eyes don't quite meet the viewer's, but look beyond them, as if he were gazing into the future. He must have thought that his future would be brighter than his present: The expression exudes confidence. He was right. The 1790s, for David, would be defined by his exit from the world of politics and his renewed prominence in the art realm. Portraits became his ticket back to prominence. He did some on commission (David commanded steep prices), others to curry favor with those who could advance his career, and still others for friends and family. The magnetic quality of the best of them transcends whatever practical considerations mattered to David at the time.Finally, Michael Kilian's review (Jacques-Louis David painted a celebratory life, February 25) was published first in the Chicago Tribune:
David swiftly found himself the court painter to an emperor, advanced by such grand and glorious works as "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint Bernard" (1801) - a heroic equestrian canvas notable, as Seydl notes, because the handsome fellow "doesn't look like Napoleon"_"The Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine" (1808), "Napoleon in the Study at the Tuileries" (1812), etc. Came Waterloo, and Napoleon was packed off to the flyspeck South Atlantic island of St. Helena. David got off with Brussels, where he earned a prosperous living in part by painting portraits of his fellow exiles, including members of the Bonaparte family. He also continued with historical and mythological subjects, with canvases now striking for the intensity of their color and, in some cases, their salaciousness: "Cupid and Psyche" (1817), "The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis" (1818) and "The Rape of Lucretia" (1825), among others. I asked Seydl if he thought David died there in exile thinking himself any kind of failure. "I think he died fully satisfied with his life's body of work," Seydl said, "and his place in the history of art."After Los Angeles, Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile will travel to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., from June 5 through September 5.