Art: David the Difficult

"Hurry, hurry, my dear friend, thumb over your Plutarch and choose a subject familiar to everyone—it counts a great deal." Jacques-Louis David, the painter prophet of the French Revolution, was advising a favorite pupil. "Now give yourself to what really constitutes history painting," he went on. "All other sorts . . . will disappear; only this is safe from men's passions."

The curly-maned old lion could never have dreamed it, but his kind of painting, which put ideas ahead of emotions, was on the verge of obscurity for a century or more. The romantic French masters who followed him, from Courbet and...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!