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Portrait presumed to be of his jailer

Jacques-Louis David

(1748 - 1825) | 931.15

Date : Vers 1794 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Was this portrait, as indicated on the back on the canvas, painted from life by David while he was in prison in 1794? It shows the head and shoulders of his jailer, through whose son the work entered the collection of Dr Gosset, then of Mme Claudel, before being bought by the City of Rouen in 1931.

The treatment of the eyes, the finely, delineated hair, the garments treated with the "frottis" technique and certain details in the shirt are all typical of David's work. Apart from the style of the painting, its incompleteness and the masterly sketch revealed under infrared light are two further indications enabling an attribution to David, in a confused period when it is difficult to study the master’s works.

This portrait is one of the rare works executed by David (a member of the Jacobin Club, then of the General Security Committee and the Committee for Public Instruction) during his imprisonment in the Hôtel des Fermes Générales and then the Palais du Luxembourg from August to December 1794, just after Thermidor and the fall of Robespierre. The others include an album of pencil sketches, a self-portrait, two drawings on the theme of Homer, and sketches for The Sabines and perhaps for the View of the Jardin du Luxembourg.