… against a bloody background …
I always think of Jacques-Louis David as a history painter and so the delicacy of his portraits take me by surprise.
Painted in 1791-2, this striking young woman is most likely Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton (1769-1802), the wife of Charles-Louis Trudaine, who was a friend of the artist. The Trudaine family belonged to the liberal “haute bourgeoisie” and they were initially favourable to the Revolution. Marie-Louise is wearing simple clothes suitable for someone of her political leanings; and her blue sash, white shirt and the red background makeup the new Tricolour flag of France. The portrait was never finished as the Trudaines quarrelled with David over his support for the increasingly violent Terror.
David‘s characteristic “scumbling” of the red background – a technique he used for these portraits – adds a clamour of hysteria to this already nervous, defiant young woman, with her arms folded awkwardly across her body and her half turn towards the viewer. The Trudaine brothers went to the scaffold soon after this. Marie-Louise died ten years later when she was 33 years old. Alas, I can’t find anymore details about her but it can’t have been a very happy life.
David was an ardent supporter the Terror. He organized revolutionary fetes and ceremonials to replace the Catholic festivals and painted many key images of the period such as the pietà of the Revolution, The Death of Marat. David was a member of the Assembly, however, he too was eventually imprisoned. When the artist was released, a couple of years later, David stayed away from direct politics but did become a favourite painter of Napolean.
Portrait of Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton, 1891-2, (Louvre) by Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825).