Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 110 x 151 cm
Signed: and dated (on the hilt of Achille's sword) : Louis David Brux. 1825
Firmin Didot (1764-1836) and his son Ambroise Firmin-Didot (1790-1876); to Alfred Firmin-Didot (1828-1913); Maurice Firmin-Didot (1859-1925); Robert Firmin-Didot (1888-1965); by descent.
A. Th…, Vie de David, Chez les Marchands de Nouveautés, Paris, 1826, pp. 154, 164; Etienne Delécluze,Louis David, son École & et [sic] son temps: souvenirs, Didier, Paris, 1855, p. 375; Charles Blanc, “David”, inGreat French Painters, 1865; Société de L’histoire de L’art Français, Nouvelles Archives de L’Art Français, Paris, 1875; Jules David, David, Paris, 1880, pp.603, 650 ; Apollinaire, Guillaume, L’intransigeant, 10 Avril 1913; Raymond Bouyer, Les Musées de France, 1913, p. 45; Richard Cantinelli, Jacques-Louis David, 1748-1825, Paris, Bruxelles, Les Éditions G. van Oest, 1930, p. 116, no. 162; Klaus Holma, David, Son évolution et son Style, Fernand Sorlot, Paris, 1940, p. 130, no 168; Louis Hautecoeur, Louis David, La Table Ronde, Paris, 1954, pp. 270 and 277; René Verbraeken, Jacques-Louis David, Jugé par ses Contemporains et par la postérité, Leonce Laget, Paris, 1973, p. 135, foot note 69, pp. 186, 244; Daniel Wildenstein, Documents complémentaires au catalogue de l’oeuvre de Louis David [rassemblés par] Daniel Wildenstein et Guy Wildenstein, Fondation Wildenstein, Paris, 1973, no. 1,997, 1,998, 2,005, 2,011; Anita Brookner, Jacques-Louis David, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1980. p. 184; Antoine Schnapper, David, Alpine Fine Arts, New York, 1980. p. 297; Pierre Loze, Editor, 1770 – 1830, Autour du neo-classicisme en Belgique, Musée Communal des Beaux-arts d’Ixelles, La Société royale d’archéologie …Bruxelles, 1985, pp. 183,252; Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, In Pursuit of Quality, 1987, p. 262 Antoine Schnapper, Jacques-Louis David, [exposition] Musée du Louvre, département des peintures, Paris, Musée national du château, Versailles, 26 octobre 1989 – 12 février 1990 / [commissariat général : Antoine Schnapper, Arlette Sérullaz], Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1989. p.528 (note) ;; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California and Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute,
Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2005, Jacques-Louis David, Empire to Exile, under no. 36, pp. 251-256, illus, p. 255 (misdescribed); Paris, Musée Jacquemart André, David, October 2005-January 2006, number 57; Toronto, Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario, Drama and Desire, October 6 2009 – 26 September 2010, ill. p. 53.
Paris, Galerie Lebrun, Exposition pour les Grecs, 1826; Paris, Galerie Lebrun, Exposition au profit de la caisse ouverte pour l’extinction de la mendicité, 1829 ; Paris, Exposition au profit des blessés de Juillet, 1830; Paris, Exposition David et ses Élèves, Palais Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, 7 Avril – 9 Juin 1913, p. 26, no. 67 . Paris, Musée Jacquemart André, David, October 2005-January 2006, number 57; Marseille, Musée Cantini; Rovereto, MART; Toronto, Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario, De la Scene au Tableau : David, Fussli, Klimt, Moreau, Lautrec, Degas, Vuillard.., October 6 2009 – 26 September 2010, number 7, illustrated in the catalogue to the exhibition, p. 53.
David’s final years were marked by exile from his homeland and official disapproval of his revolutionary entanglements. He no longer enjoyed the extraordinary status in the contemporary art firmament that had accompanied his worldwide fame for some thirty years. Nonetheless, he persevered as both a highly skilled artist and one capable of new and original ideas. In his later career, David developed a more intense and contrasting palette and a newfound desire for greater realism in his portrayal of figures in his classical history and mythological subjects. His exile, though a time of steadily declining physical health, neither dampened his passion for his art nor limited the scale of the artist’s, always grand, ambition. It was in 1822 that David produced a full-scale replica of the Sacre (now in the Musée National, Versailles) and the enormous Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Graces (308 x 262 cm, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique) in 1824.
La Colère d’Achille, the painting here, had not been exhibited for nearly a century and never before reproduced until its rediscovery in 2005 in the collection of the very family who had commissioned it one-hundred and eighty years before. When Jacques-Louis David died in 1825, La Colère d’Achille, had been completed only a short while. Indeed, David is quoted by several of his friends as having remarked of the painting “Voilà mon ennemi; c’est lui qui me tue.” Nonetheless David had managed to complete the painting, and effectively improved upon his earlier composition as David’s pupil and friend Navez attested to in a letter (written the day David died) to Baron Gros.
The wrath of the hero Achilles at the proposed sacrifice of the Greek King Agamemnon’s young daughter was known in David’s time as much through Racine’s tragedy, Iphigènie, as the original Euripides (c. 450 BC). David likely owned the fine edition of Racine’s plays published in 1801 by the very family who commissioned this painting, M. Firmin Didot and his son Ambroise; the volume contained illustrations after David’s own drawings. The subject, which David had first treated in 1819 (a canvas now in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas), was executed at the request of the ardent Hellenophile, Ambroise Firmin-Didot, whose father, the publisher Firmin Didot, paid for the painting. Although in recent years the 1819 painting has been better known since its acquisition by the Kimbell Art Museum, in the years immediately following David’s death, only the 1825 painting was known to Parisian audiences. The Didot family owned both paintings and chose to include the more highly esteemed 1825 painting in the three well-attended exhibitions organised to celebrate the artist. It was again the 1825 painting chosen for the 1913 David exhibition in preference to the 1819, both paintings inherited that year from Alfred Firmin Didot by his son Maurice. The painting here is still owned by the heirs of Maurice Didot and remains the last known painting of a history subject by Jacques-Louis David remaining in private hands.