These are the 12 most famous Neoclassicism paintings from art history.
The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David (1793)
Jean-Paul Marat was a political theorist, physician, and scientist. More importantly, he was a revolutionist during the French revolution and a vigorous defender of the radical voice. He was David’s friend who was murdered. This painting was created in the months after Marat’s murder and shows him lying dead in his bath after being murdered by 24-year-old Charlotte Corday, due to his responsibility for the more radical course of the Revolution. She was later executed by guillotine for his assassination. She was later named l’ange de l’assassinat, an angel of assassination.
Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David (1784)
Jacques-Louis David was an artist whose work symbolism represented the revolutionary events taking place at the time. This painting became a huge success with critics of the time. It depicts a scene from an ancient Roman legend about a 7th-century BC dispute between Alba Longa and Rome. It stresses the importance of patriotism and masculine self-sacrifice for one’s country. The two cities, Alba Longa and Rome had to settle disputes through a ritual duel between sons of the Roman Horatius family and three members of the Curiatii family from the latter city. As the revolution in France loomed, paintings urging loyalty to the state rather than to the clan or clergy abounded.
The Princesse de Broglie by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1851-1853)
This portrait was painted by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who was a French neoclassical artist who was influenced by past artistic traditions. He aspired to become the guardian of academic orthodoxy against the romantic style, and he was an important precursor of modern art, influencing artists such as Picasso and Matisse. The subject of this painting is Pauline de Broglie, who has adopted the courtesy title Princesse. At the time of the painting’s completion, she was 28 years old and was the wife of the future Prime Minister of France. Besides being known for her beauty, she was highly intelligent but suffered from melancholia. She passed away in her early 30s from tuberculosis and her husband was eternally heartbroken and had never remarried.
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787)
David was a French painter of the neoclassical style and an active supporter of the French revolution. This oil on canvas depicts subjects from the Classical age and a story of the execution of Socrates, as it is told by Plato in Phaedo. As the story dictates, Socrates has been convinced of corrupting the young Athenians and introducing strange goods. He was, therefore, sentenced to die by drinking poison hemlock. But, before drinking it, Socrates used his death as a final lesson for his pupils and faces it calmly and collected.
Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie-Denise Villers (1801)
Villers was a French painter, specializing in portraits. Little is known about her early life, besides the fact that her sisters and cousins were all trained as portraitists, and that she took painting lessons with Francois Gerard and Jacques-Louis David. This painting is unsigned and was attributed incorrectly over time, as it was believed to be David’s. It depicts a woman drawing in front of a broken window; behind her is a couple standing on a parapet. Critics first believed that, as it was attributed to David, it showed one of his models or students. But in a more modern take, and after confirming it was Villers’s painting, it is concluded that it is a feminist painting as it “does not seek charm, nor does it seek to portray the sexual vitality of its sitter”.
Romania Unchained by Gheorghe Tattarescu (1866)
Tattarescu was a Moldavian and Romanian painter and a pioneer in neoclassicism in his country. This oil on canvas painting bears another title February 11 – Modern Romania as it depicts a personification of Romania during the time in history when the Constitution of Romania was signed. Romantic nationalist ideals were the inspiration for several of his allegorical compositions with revolutionary themes such as Romania’s rebirth and the Principalities’ Unification.
Achilles Receiving the Ambassadors of Agamemnon by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1801)
Ingres was a French Neoclassical painter who was influenced by past artistic traditions. At the age of 21, he won the Prix de Rome (a bursary for art students to stay in Rome) for this painting and spent the following years working from Rome. This painting depicts an episode from Homer’s Iliad, in which Achilles refuses to listen to the envoys sent by Agamemnon (king of Mycenae) to convince him back to the Trojan war. This work was intended as a demonstration of Ingres’ mastery of the human figure in classical history painting.
The Attributes of the Arts by Anne Vallayer-Coster (1769)
Vallayer-Coster was a major 18th-century painter known for still lives. She achieved recognition very early in her career as her skills generated a great deal of attention from collectors and other artists. Besides The Attributes of the Arts, she painted Attributes of Music as they were her admission for the 1771 exhibition at which critics noted: “…if all new members of the Royal Academy made a showing like Mademoiselle Vallayer’s, and sustained the same high level of quality, the Salon would look very different!”.
Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1806)
This is one of the best-known representations of Emperor Napoleon I. Ingres was one of the few artists to receive an official commission to portray Napoleon dressed in one of the different Coronation robes that he wore during the “Sacre” at Notre Dame in Paris in 1804. This painting did not meet with the approval of the public, and critics described the work as “gothic” and “barbarous”, moreover, the face of the Emperor was found not to resemble him sufficiently.
Julie Lebrun as Flora by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1799)
Madame Le Brun was a French portrait painter, especially of women. Her style is considered part of the aftermath of Rococo, with elements of the neoclassical style. She created a name for herself in Ancient Regime society by serving as the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette. In this painting, she painted her daughter, nicknamed Brunette. She was a painter herself and a model in her mother’s many paintings. She attempted to support herself with her art and passed away at a young age. Her father was also a painter and art collector, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun.
Judgment of Paris by Anton Raphael Mengs (1757)
Mengs was a German painter, who became one of the precursors to Neoclassical painting, which replaced Rococo. He was a friend of Johann Joachim Winkelmann an archaeologist and art historian, who evoke an interest in classical antiquity in Mengs. This painting depicts a scene from Greek mythology and an event that led up to the Trojan War. The Judgement of Paris as a phrase means the ultimate origin of a war or other event.
Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David (1800)
David was a French painter who worked in the neoclassical style whose cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from rococo toward classical austerity. Juliette Récamier was a Parisian socialite, who began to model for various artists at the age of 23. She is shown in the height of neoclassical fashion, reclining on a sofa in a simple Empire line dress and short hair. This work is notable for its distance between viewer and subject, as she appears separate and distinct in her own space. This painting’s furniture is in the Pompeian style, but it has remained unfinished. An interesting fact is that this work has had substantial implications in the art world. The sofa on which Madame Récamier reclines is now known as a recamier (a backless couch with a high curved headrest and low footrest).
What famous Neoclassicism paintings do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.