Jacques Louis-David (French, 1748-1825)
Funeral of a Hero, 1778
Ink on paper 10 5/16 in. x 59 5/8 in. (26.19 cm x 151.45 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection1871.408
One of the most influential French painters of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Jacques-Louis David studied at the Académie royale. After winning the Prix de Rome in 1774, which facilitated his study in Italy, he incorporated his experience with ancient art into a new classicizing style. He returned to Paris in 1780, a time when a nascent revolutionary spirit was in the air, and his canvases depicting events from Roman history appealed greatly to the French public. David’s depictions of noble deeds, such as his Oath of the Horatii of 1785, struck a chord politically and introduced a new, sober style far different from that of many of the artists then patronized by the court.
David became a member of the Académie royale in 1784. He continued to serve the government after the fall of the ancien régime in 1789, managing to navigate the difficult waters of French politics to become Napoléon Bonaparte’s official painter in 1804. The restoration of the monarchy in 1815 forced his exile to Brussels, where he continued to paint historical subjects and portraits and also taught.
Dating from 1778, during the artist’s early years in Rome, David’s Funeral of a Hero marks his stylistic transition towards Neoclassicism. The archaeological accuracy of the altar, sacrificial implements, and drapery shows close study of ancient reliefs and sarcophagi. The body of the hero is drawn from a sarcophagus of the hunter Meleager, for example. The first part of the drawing, now in Grenoble, shows the beginning of the procession. The toe of a figure in the French drawing is visible at the extreme left of this one.