Jacques-Louis David Oath of the Horatii - Early 19th-century black chalk drawing


An original early 19th-century chalk drawing, Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii.

This outstanding large profile portrait in black chalk by an unknown hand shows a detail from Jacques-Louis David’s Neoclassical masterpiece, The Oath of the Horatii.

David’s painting caused a revolution in French painting, stunning visitors to the Paris Salon when it was first exhibited in 1785. And this drawing, focusing intensely on the face of the father Horatii, embodies the high emotion and drama for which David’s painting was celebrated.

David’s painting tells the story of a Roman legend first recounted by Livy, involving a conflict between the Romans and a rival group from nearby Alba. Rather than the cities going to war, each elects three men to settle their dispute – the Romans choosing the Horatii brother and the Albans choosing the Curatii brothers. In David’s painting the three Horatii salute their father in an oath to defend Rome, in doing so pledging to sacrifice their lives for the good of the city.

The painting is an “exemplum virtutis” – an illustration of courage and virtue – and as such, is held up as the manifesto of the Neoclassical movement. Furthermore, painted five years before the French Revolution, it manifests a progressive Enlightenment ideals, which eventually contributed to the overthrowing of the monarchy. By isolating the father’s face, our artist distils David’s theme into one look – the figure’s eyes seemingly bearing the full weight of the woes of brethren, city and society.

The choice of black chalk is interesting as this was the medium in which David executed many preparatory studies for his painting. In 1784 he travelled to Italy to prepare for the painting, where he produced numerous black chalk sketches from life, including figure studies and copies from classical originals and old masters. This chalk drawing is highly polished rather than preparatory in nature, but its medium, allowing for high drama with white chalk highlights and scratching out, is nevertheless in keeping with the original artist’s vision. The artist shows masterful skill in the medium, with application ranging from areas of intense black to delicate smudged shading producing subtle total values.

The drawing is early 19th-century or quite possibly older - the paper has the appearance of an early handmade wove, with distinctive fine indentations characteristic of paper that has been pressed between non-woven felts, the hairs of which leave impressions on the drying paper.

Overall, in excellent condition. The sheet is adhered to mount board by hinging tape at the left edge. There is a central horizontal crease line running across the paper, but this does not significantly detract from the quality of the image. There are a few small patches of abrasion to the far outer edges of the sheet as shown, which would be covered by a mount. There is a tiny, barely visible abrasion to the lower area of the beard.
40cm x 32.5cm.

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Product code: JF-823

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