Art Wednesday

Self portrait of the artist

I love the way a painting can tell a story and today I have focused on just one of these stories.  I must apologies as I haven't selected the happiest of stories - this on is  about revolution, power and death.   The painting is The Death of Marat (1793) by the French artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).  

The painting below is of Jean-Paul Marat,  one of the most passionate leaders of the French Revolution and a personal friend of the artist Jacques-Louis David.  He was stabbed to death in his bath on the 13th of July 1793 by Charlotte Corday, a French Revolutionary figure from a minor aristocratic family. The letter he wrote whilst dying was in his hand.

Marat was a Swiss-born French physician, philosopher, political theorist and scientist best known as a radical journalist and politician from the French Revolution and he was the champion of liberty.  Marat often sought the comfort of a cold bath to ease violent itchings due to a skin disease long said to have been contracted years earlier, when he was forced to hide from his enemies in the Paris sewers.

Even though Marat had a skin condition, the artist did not depict it in the painting, instead he focuses the viewer on other details such as the letter, the pen in Marat's hand and other small details.

The letter written by Marat before he died reads in English "I am just too unhappy to deserve your kindness".  Marat includes the name of Charlotte Corday, the killer, who was still in the room as he wrote this letter. The original letter, with bloodstains and bath water marks still visible, has survived and is currently intact in the ownership of Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford.
The work was widely admired during the Revolution and leaders ordered several copies of the original work to be produced and these were copied by David's pupils and served as propaganda. From 1795 to David's death, the painting languished in obscurity.  In 1826 (and at a later stage) the owner (a student of David) tried to sell the painting, with no success at all. In the 20th century, the painting inspired several painters among them Picasso and Munch who delivered their own versions.

In 1886 the family gave the original painting to the Royal Museum of Fine Art is Brussels, the copies done by David’s students hang in other art galleries (Dijon, Reims, Versailles).

David was a fan of Napoleon and painted a number of paintings of the leader.

 Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass, 1801
 Coronation of Napoleon, 1806
Comtesse Vilain XIIII and her Daughter, 1816
Anne-Marie-Louise Thélusson, Comtesse de Sorcy, 1790



  1. Wow...I always enjoy your post! Thanks for sharing...I just want to set and look at each of the paintings.

  2. Jo,

    This painter surely did lead a disturbing life!

    The picture of the artist bleeding in his bathtub was a bit too morbid for me, but interesting.

    The other paintings were interesting, but I would have to say that this was not one of my favorite artist.

    -Lady Rose

  3. Lady Rose - I suppose David only did what the camera does today, capture a moment in time and keep it for us in history. The camera and what appears on our nightly news is often much worse than this painting.


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