Saturday, September 6, 2014

It started with Madame Seriziat. Then I got carried away.

This portrait hung outside of my hotel room on the fifth floor of The Driskill and is a copy of one of Jacques-Louis David's many works. Approaching it made me feel as if I were being welcomed by an old acquaintance.  I recognized it, but didn't know the woman's identity.  The internet being what it is, fifteen minutes later, after sitting in the bar with my laptop, I was able to enlighten my new Best Friend, the concierge, about Madame Seriziat.  He got all excited.  Thus the Best Friend label.

Jacques-Louis David is, as I've mentioned, my favorite and least favorite artist.   It just seems sleazy to profit from the largesse of the monarchy and aristocracy, who were his patrons, then vote for some for their deaths, in the name of the common man, then latch on to Napoleon's glittering star and profit from it.  After some of what I've learned about him recently, I might try to give him some slack.  Once I take a hard line, it's not easy for me to do.  Marie Antoinette have that in common - the tendency to hold a grudge.

David owed Louis XVI for some of the good in his life, yet the early advantages he enjoyed didn't seem to affect David's vote when the final tally was counted.   For one thing, the king awarded him the honor of living quarters in the Louvre towards the beginning of his career.  For another, David met his wife through the king, indirectly, because his wife, Marguerite Charlotte Pécoul, was the daughter of the contractor of the King's buildings.   Initially, Louis XVI encouraged David's art.  He supported the production of the Oath of the Horatii, intending it to be a testament of loyalty to the monarchy.  The work ended up influencing public thought against the king because it became regarded more as a tribute to man's loyalty to the State, as represented by a republic, than loyalty to a monarchy.

As David's art increasingly reflected his growing republican ideals, the King became less of a fan.  He tried, unsuccessfully, to block exhibition of The Lictors Bring Brutus the Body of his Sons with its anti-monarchy political message.

If you'd like to read a brief previous post about Brutus, click here.

This is David's depiction of the famous Tennis Court Oath.  The event took place at a pivotal point in French history which can better be explained by Wikipedia here.  

And, I've mentioned The Tennis Court Oath here.

Before long, David really got down to the business of influencing the public with revolutionary ideas as gets more and more carried away by the Revolution, more and more radical, more and more aligned with extremists like Jean-Paul Marat who, with his journalistic endeavors attempted to whip the weak-minded into a frenzy.  After Charlotte Corday's expert aim quietens Marat in his bathtub, David paints this tribute to him and plans his dramatic funeral.

Previous rambling about Marat can be enjoyed, endured, ignored here.  There are other references to Marat linked to his name on the bottom right column of subject labels.

BUT, WAIT, I just got a little carried away about Jacques-Louis David.  What I started out to write about is the Madame Seriziat painting at The Driskill!  It all ties together.  I'll make it brief and wrap this up.

So, David's art and actions become more political.  He becomes a member of the National Convention and votes for the death of his former king, Louis XVI.  He'd finally gone too far for his royalist wife.  She divorces him.

Madame David (nee Marguerite Charlotte Pécoul) 1813
~I believe it's currently exhibited at the National Gallery in DC~

When his ally, his friend, the dastardly Maximilian Robespierre is overthrown, David calls out to him "If you drink hemlock, I will join you."  Perhaps the mere thought sickened him, perhaps he did drink it, or perhaps he just picked up "a bug," as my mother would've called it, but David became ill and checked out long enough to spare himself execution at the side of Robespierre and the Robespierreists.  Instead, he was thrown in prison where he made good use of his time by painting this self-portrait. He neglected to include the disfiguring growth on his face that was a result of a gash from a sword and a subsequent tumor. He also shaves off a few years.  Can't blame a guy for wishful thinking.

David's ex-wife and four children visited him in prison providing inspiration for his future work, my all-time favorite piece of art, The Intervention of the Sabine Women.  In it, David seems to honor women's peacekeeping role and the struggle of love prevailing over conflict. (Click here if you'd like to read a previous post about it.) The painting is gigantic and spectacular, reminds me of my mother, and is never missed when I have an opportunity to stand in front of it in wonder.

This is where Madame Seriziat comes in.  She, the former Emilie Pécoul, was Jacques-Louis David's (ex)wife's sister.  Her husband used his influence to get David released from prison and hosted him at their château where David painted this charming portrait of her and her son.  The little boy seems to be regarding Uncle Jacques with suspicion.  Might that have been David's guilty conscience at work?

Jacques-Louis David and Madame Seriziat's sister remarry and experience a period of relative quiet. The artist is favored by France's new Emperor Napoleon I and, despite the fact that his signature was on the death warrant of Josephine's first husband, David paints both Napoleon and his Empress Josephine several times including the spectacular Coronation of Napoleon into which he painted himself and Napoleon's mother though neither attended. Another run-on sentence.  The original is in the Louvre and a copy, painted by David and one of his students, hangs in Versailles.

Stories and opinions about various characters in this poorly reproduced image dance around in my head, but I can't always indulge the importanttomadeleine. There are not enough hours in the day.  No doubt, I won't be able to resist dragging the subject out someday, but in the meantime, witness the genius of Jacques-Louis David at this website.

After Napoleon's fall, the restored French monarchy was less bitter toward David than I'd have been (as I said, push me far enough and I tend to be unforgiving) but he decided to relocate to Brussels nonetheless.  In 1825, he was hit by a carriage, returning home from the theatre, died and was buried there.  His heart was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris not far from Jim Morrison's grave.  Barbara and I visited them a few years ago.

A decidedly unattractive final destination for the heart of a great artist.  But, maybe more than he deserves given the tragedies to which he contributed.  Was there not a more civilized way to equalize power and wealth than the French Revolution?

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