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Paris and Helen
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This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Jacques-Louis David
French, 1786
Pen and black ink and gray wash
7 3/16 x 9 in.
83.GA.192

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Capturing Greek legend's view of Paris and Helen as the perfection of beautiful manhood and the symbol of womanly beauty and sexual attraction, Jacques-Louis David painted the fabled pair of lovers at ease in their love nest. The subject is love, expressed by the presence of Cupid and the drawing's sensuality, rather than Paris's abduction of Helen or the Trojan War that ensued as a result.

As early as 1786, the comte d'Artois, brother to kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, commissioned a painting on this subject from David. David worked on the painting for at least two years and completed it in 1788. In this drawing and others, he developed a serene composition with affectionate gestures and a lavishly furnished antique setting. The composition and emotional tone of the final painting remained very similar, though Cupid and the tall lamp were eliminated.