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When No One Liked Jacques Louis David

Philippe Bordes, professor emeritus of art history, Université Lyon 2. Museums today give the painter Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) the same preeminent recognition that he enjoyed during his lifetime, as the creator of a commanding neoclassical style and a persuasive Napoleonic imagery. For about a century after his death, however, he was mostly rebuked by collectors and critics. In this lecture held on June 11, 2017, in conjunction with the exhibition America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting at the National Gallery of Art, Philippe Bordes accounts for these dramatic shifts in taste and perception. Bordes explains that it is necessary to invoke changing attitudes toward the prestige of antique models and toward an artist whose political concerns found expression in his works. Often at stake were fundamental debates as to what made a work of art attractive and how to construct a history of 18th-century French painting. The highs and lows of the critical reception of David’s paintings are a reminder that our own perceptions are bound to evolve over time. Bringing together 68 paintings that represent some of the best and most unusual examples of French art of that era held by American museums, America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting is on view from May 21 through August 20, 2017.