HISTORY OF MODERN FRANCE
From the Pre-Revolutionary period to the 3rd Republic 1770-1870 - Part I
Wednesday, 16 November 2022
The Neoclassical Revolution:
David and French Painting before the French Revolution
with Chris Boïcos
In 1771 Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s last mistress, rejected Fragonard’s Progress of Love, a magnificent set of mural paintings (today in the Frick collection in New York), she had commissioned for her château in Louveciennes. This surprising rejection spells the beginning of the end in France of the Rococo age and the ushering in of an artistic revolution that will lead to the triumph of a new style – Neoclassicism – which will dominate French art for the next fifty years.
The critics of the day, notably the philosopher Denis Diderot, openly attacked the Rococo style whose king had been François Boucher (1703-1770), as frivolous and immoral. Seriousness, nobility and virtue were the values that art had to return to in order to recover its moral fiber. These values were to be provided by the generation of painters trained in the French Academy in Rome after the advent of Louis XVI (1774), himself a virtuous counterexample to his decadent grandfather, Louis XV.
In our presentation we will examine the key predecessors to the Neoclassical generation, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Joseph-Marie Vien and focus on the new talents that emerged in the 1780s: Joseph Benoît Suvée, François-André Vincent, Jean-Germain Drouais and the greatest of all, Jacques-Louis David. David’s revival of the ancient Roman world in his pre-revolutionary paintings will indeed serve as a template for the emotional and political climate of the times, becoming key visual symbols of the Revolution to come.
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