National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Madame David Jacques-Louis David (painter)
French, 1748 - 1825
Madame David, 1813
oil on canvas
overall: 72.9 x 59.4 cm (28 11/16 x 23 3/8 in.) framed: 93.6 x 79.7 x 9.5 cm (36 7/8 x 31 3/8 x 3 3/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: 18th- and 19th-Century France — Neoclassicism
Object 4 of 7

When David married Marguerite-Charlotte Pécoul, the young daughter of a prosperous builder with connections at Louis XVI's court, he was literally twice her age. Their marriage was at times stormy; they separated, divorced, and remarried. David spoke of her as a "woman whose virtues and character had assured the happiness of his life." Political disagreements, particularly his attachment to the ruthless Robespierre, may have exacerbated their personal differences. However, after Robespierre was executed and David himself imprisoned—and threatened with the guillotine—his wife rallied to him with great courage. Her tireless appeals secured his release, and they remained together until her death.

David's frank but sympathetic portrait catches not only the homeliness of his wife's features, but her intelligence and directness as well. Unlike many of David's works, this portrait was painted entirely by his own hand. Its technique is freer than the austere style he applied to less intimate subjects. The satiny texture of her dress, unadorned by jewelry as Madame David surrendered hers in support of the revolution, is created with heavy brushes of thick pigment, the plume with lighter strokes of thinner color. These exuberant surfaces contrast with the restrained precision of the accessories in Napoleon's portrait.

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