Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), “Paris and Helen”, France, 1789
Original copy of a painting (now held by the Musée du Louvre) executed in 1788 for the Comte d’Artois and placed in his bedroom at the Château de Bagatelle; copy made in 1789 for Princess Izabela Lubomirska
Oil on canvas.
Bequest of Frédéric Eugène Lefebvre de Viefville, 1963
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance
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Jacques-Louis David had caused a sensation in 1784 with his famous painting Oath of the Horatii, a manifesto of neoclassicism that established David as the leader of the neoclassical movement. The artist painted Paris and Helen four years later; although the subject is less serious, the decoration is still classical in style, with the exception of the caryatids in the background, inspired by those carved for the Louvre by the Renaissance sculptor Jean Goujon. The near-naked bodies, as smooth and perfect as Greek statues, stand out against an artfully draped curtain.
The scene features a few pieces of furniture: an elegant daybed; a curule chair whose curvature is visible in the center; and on the right, an athénienne stand (a tripod used for burning perfume). Rather than purely decorative, these pices recall the fact that David applied his aesthetic principles to other media than painting; when in Rome, he designed furniture which was then made by the cabinetmaker Georges Jacob.
Two of the furniture pieces on display in this room seem to be straight out of David’s painting: a curule armchair by the Frères Jacob and a patinated bronze athénienne stand designed by the silversmith Jean-Baptiste Odiot.