Madame Recamier

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Jacques-Louis David, Madame Recamier, 1800
By EMMA SHAPIRO

Jacques-Louis David used many of his paintings as political weapons, and he also had an active political career within the art world. Although he continuously opposed the Academy he still prepared for the salons hoping for his pieces to gain entry. He participated in the attempted disestablishment of the Academy and when it completely disintegrated David became an inaugural member of the Institut de France. Following the abolition of the Academy and the Prix de Rome, David felt like there needed to be some way of rewarding French students with exceptional merit. He worked on assembling a jury and soon after his pupil won the prize for painting. Although most of David's paintings attacked politics, he was an avid participator in the political arts.

The portrait of Madame Recamier appears to be a simple portrait, yet it still contains some political ideas. Not as majorly as some of his other works, such as The Death of Marat, but they are still ever present. The idea arising in this painting is that of feminine elegance. The layout of the painting differs from that of a traditional portrait style canvas. The room seems almost completely bare except for the sofa, stool, and candelbra. Madame Recamier's face appears from a distance because David wished to extenuate the "elegant arabesque" of Recamier's body.

The technique exhibited differs from that of later David paintings, with more vibrant brushstrokes rather than his later translucent colors. Madame Recamier wears only a light, white, antique-style dress, and no shoes and sits in an almost completely empty room. This usage of neoclassical ideas had been avant-garde for the 1800s. David's Madame Recamier remains unfinished, but why remains a mystery. While David painted it, Madame Recamier commissioned one of David's pupils to paint another portrait instead of David because she thought David took too long. David insisted on keeping the painting but it sat in his studio incomplete, publicly unseen until it went to the Louvre in 1826.


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