Antoine-Jean Gros's parents were miniature painters. He entered Jacques-Louis David's studio in 1785 and then trained at the Académie Royale. After losing the Prix de Rome competition and suffering his father's death and bankruptcy, Gros turned to portrait painting for income. With David's assistance, he went to northern Italy in 1793, where he studied art by Peter Paul Rubens and the Venetians. There he met Napoleon, who would become the subject of some of Gros's most celebrated paintings.
Between 1804 and 1808 he labored on three heroic paintings featuring Napoleon. They caused a sensation, and Gros became France's most honored painter. Gros's vibrant use of color was much admired: "You are not sufficiently concerned with color, my dear sirs," he told his pupils. "Yes, it's color which gives poetry, life and charm-no painting can come to life without it."
After the Battle of Waterloo and David's exile, Gros worked for the new king and took over David's large studio, which became Paris's mecca for advanced painting. Although Gros inspired Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix with his dramatic subject matter, bold technique, and use of color, he shifted his style toward a more restrained Neoclassicism. His late classicist works-depicting ancient myths rather than creating Napoleonic ones as he had once done-evoked adverse criticism, and he drowned himself in the Seine.