The Painter Jacques Louis David in Prison

The Painter Jacques Louis David in Prison

Pierre-Maximilien Delafontaine (French, 1777–1860)

The Painter Jacques-Louis David in Prison, 1794

Black and white chalk on ivory laid paper

Delafontaine was a pupil of the great Neo-Classical artist Jacques Louis David. At that time David was a member of the Jacobin Club and an ardent supporter of the French Revolution. When the radical Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated, David was moved to paint his masterpiece, The Death of Marat (1793). When the tyrannical Maximilian Robespierre was guillotined, David was arrested for his extreme political views. David served time in prison twice, from August 2 to December 28, 1794, and again from May 29 to August 3, 1795. Delafontaine made this drawing while David was incarcerated in 1794.

This important drawing has a curious history that Delafontaine inscribed on the back of the frame, it translates as, “Drawing made by me, P.M. Delafontaine in keeping with the portrait done by myself of David in 1790, and of which I am the owner today, having bought it at the sale of the late M. Gerard. I drew this portrait during his detention at Luxembourg where he was imprisoned following 9 Thermidor, Year 3 [1794]. M. L. David had given his portrait painted by him [Delafontaine] to M. Gerard, his pupil, in acknowledgment of the present that Gerard offered to him [David], a beautiful portrait of Canova, made by him when Canova took a voyage from Rome to Paris during the Empire, then Gerard made a present to his master [David] saying to him, 'My master, I could do no less than offer the leading painter of his age, a portrait of the leading sculptor'… it was then that David, moved to tears, presented this portrait painted by him [Delafontaine] to M. Gerard.”