David David-Weill was born in San Francisco on 30 August 1871 to French parents who had fled their native country during the Franco-Prussian war. He spent the first thirteen years of his life in the United States, until his family returned to France for his secondary education. There he studied law, performed one year of voluntary military service, and began a career in the bank owned by his uncles, Lazard Frères. In 1897 he married Flora Raphael, with whom he had seven children.
David-Weill's far ranging philanthropy included funding medical research, education, and sanatoriums. His art patronage was equally diverse. Over the course of his life he donated Chinese porcelains, Greek and Roman antiquities, and European decorative arts, miniatures, and paintings to numerous French museums. He participated in the organization of the 1928 Exposition des Arts Anciens d'Amerique and the 1931 Exposition d'Art Byzantine. David-Weill served as President du Conseil des Musées de France.
In 1937 David-Weill consigned a large number of paintings to Wildenstein's London for sale. Some of these were transferred to the dealer's New York branch and exhibited there. Later, as the prospect of war increased, he deposited some of his collection with the Louvre, with whose collection it was evacuated at the onset of hostilities. An additional twenty-six cases of paintings from his collection were shipped from Lisbon and to New York in 1941. Despite precautions, some of the David-Weill collection was confiscated by the Nazis and ultimately repatriated after the war.