Death of Marat by Jaques-Louis David

Death of Marat by Jaques-Louis David (1793)


Today’s featured artist is another French Neoclassical painter.  Jaques-Louis David was born in 1748 in Paris and is considered one of the foremost painters of his time.  From the age of nine, after his father was killed in a duel, he went to live with his wealthy uncles who ensured he had the best education.

He was a highly political being and actively supported the French Revolution and counted Robespierre, one of the best-known and most influential figures of the Revolution, as one of his friends.  His influence with Robespierre allowed him to almost be a dictator of the arts under the new French Republic.   However, the downside of such a close friendship was the fact that with the fall from power of Robespierre, came David’s fall from favour, which landed him in prison.  After his release his interest in politics continued and he became a supporter of Napoleon I.

My Daily Art Display features David’s Death of Marat which he painted in 1793 and can be found in the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts in Brussles.  It is considered by many as his greatest work.  The oil on canvas painting depicts the assassination of the revolutionary journalist and member of the National Assembly, Jean-Paul Marat.  In that same year, Marat was killed as he lay in his bath by the young anarchist Charlotte Corday, who had come to Marat on the pretence of giving him a list of people who should be executed as enemies of France.  The picture shows Marat dying, clutching the list on which can be seen Corday’s name.   Corday blamed Marat for his part in the September Massacres which occurred the previous year leading to the death of over a thousand people.

Jaques Louis David , on completion of the painting, handed it over to the National Convention saying:

Citizens, the people were again calling for their friend; their desolate voice was heard: David, take up your brushes.., avenge Marat… I heard the voice of the people. I obeyed.”

The painting of Marat is somewhat romanticised as it shows a flawless skin when in fact for the last three years of his life Marat suffered from a disfiguring skin condition.   In John Adolphus’s  Biographical Anecdotes of the Founders of the French Republic published in 1799 he describes Marat  as  a man “short in stature, deformed in person, and hideous in face”

Marat suffered extreme pain caused by this disease which could only be soothed slightly by immersing his body in the bath.