David was — and remains — one of the monumental art historical figures and the dominant French painter of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, an artist who responded brilliantly to his unique times. A major work by the master just landed in Chicago.
Jacques-Louis David is perhaps best known for his lavish portraits of the Emperor Napoleon, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that a recent loan of one of those portraits is turning heads in Chicago. Loaned to the Art Institute of Chicago by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” is an iconic royal portrait of France’s revolutionary leader. As a result of the loan, the Art Institute thought it a great opportunity to showcase their own collection of related paintings, works on paper, and sculpture.
Via the museum, “Featured objects include a rarely exhibited sketchbook of studies for another renowned Napoleonic painting by David, ‘The Distribution of the Eagle Standards,’ which records the ceremonial oath-taking of the generals and officers of the imperial army following Napoleon’s coronation in 1804. This original sketchbook is displayed near an interactive digital reconstruction that allows visitors to turn the book’s pages.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition is without a doubt the loan portrait, which displays the imperial leader in full length. Napoleon stands confidently and is projected as an extraordinary figure of wealth, power, deliberation, and action. The museum continues, “at the time, Napoleon’s empire was at its height — he had not yet led his army on the disastrous invasion of Russia — and David himself had referred to Napoleon as ‘the man of the century.’”
“Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon” will be on view through October 9. To learn more, visit the Art Institute of Chicago.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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