Museum Home Past Exhibitions Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile

February 1–April 24, 2005 at the Getty Center

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Prison Napoleon Portraits Exile Timeline

Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) lived at a time of political and social turmoil. Explore the events of his age in the timeline below.

Ancien Regime, 1748-1789French Revolution, 1789-1799Age of Napoleon, 1799-1815Era of Exile, 1815-1830

1789 The French Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille, a royal prison in Paris. The feudal regime is abolished, a new assembly is created, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is adopted.

What was the French Revolution?

1790 David becomes the leader and spokesperson for a group of dissatisfied artists unhappy with the elitest Royal Academy. The group is victorious in 1793 when the Academy is dissolved.

Read David's speech denouncing the academy system.

1791 Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their children are captured while trying to flee France.

1792 The French monarchy is abolished after Parisians storm the Tuileries palace. Marie Antoinette is guillotined.

David is elected to the National Convention, France's ruling assembly. He becomes the head of the Committee of Public Instruction, the group in charge of nationwide education and propaganda.

Learn more about David's involvement in the Revolution.

1793 Louis XVI is beheaded for treason. David votes for the king's death.

Maximilien Robespierre becomes virtual dictator of France. Thousands of suspected royalists and counter-revolutionaries are executed as the Reign of Terror begins. David participates in the Terror by ordering arrests and executions.


David's The Death of Marat commemorating Jean Paul Marat, a slain hero and martyr of the Revolution, is carried through the streets of Paris and reproduced in great quantities.

Who was Maximilien Robespierre?

1794 David and his wife, separated for two years due to political differences, divorce.


David paints his self-portrait while in prison.

Read David's letter defending himself against political charges.

1795 Napoleon orders royalists storming the National Convention to be shot.

A new constitution establishes a more stable government in France.


David is re-imprisoned from May 28 through August 3. He paints the portraits of several fellow revolutionaries while behind bars. He receives amnesty in October.

1796 David and his wife remarry.

David is contracted to provide illustrations for Pierre Didot's luxury editions of French classics.

Read more about Didot's luxury editions.


Napoleon becomes a celebrity by defeating the Austrian army at Lodi, Italy. David plans a monumental battle portrait of the new hero.