Jacques Louis David, during his lifetime, was the most important painter in Europe. He lived through tumultuous upheaval and managed,though not through charm, to continually ride the waves of political change.
David was born in Paris, France, in August 1748. His father was killed in a duel when David was a young boy, and his mother, wanting to provide David with an excellent education, sent him to live with his uncles, who were prosperous architects. Even as a boy David knew he wanted to be an artist, which was somewhat of a disappointment to his wealthy, socially elite family. Perhaps because of this, David would make it a life-long priority to uplift the arts from mere craftsmanship to Art. He always thought an artist should be well read and in essence be a philosopher, in order to make the truest art possible.1(p6) When David began his arts education, the first place his family looked for instructors was within. David's mother was a distant cousin of Francois Boucher.2 By the time Boucher was asked to tutor David, he had already been appointed First Painter to the king, Louis XVI. Boucher declined and sent Louis to another artist/instructor. David continued his education and was soon receiving formal training at the Royal Academy, which was located in the former palace of the Louvre. The competition at the Royal Academy was great, and the highest prize for every student was the Prix de Rome. David entered the competition 4 times before finally winning the prize on his fifth attempt.1(p20) While 4 consecutive rejections were not unheard of, these were extremely frustrating for David and may have sown the first seeds of antiestablishment feelings within the artist.