Jacques Louis David
French, 1748–1825
Madame de Pastoret and Her Son
mid-1791/mid-1792

Oil on canvas
129.8 x 96.6 cm (51 1/8 x 38 in.)
Clyde M. Carr Fund and Major Acquisitions Endowment, 1967.228

This portrait of Madame de Pastoret, begun in 1791 by Jacques Louis David in the midst of the French Revolution, reflects the changing image of the aristocracy during this turbulent period. Rejecting the sumptuous clothing and stately environment that many aristocrats had preferred in the past, Adelaide de Pastoret appears instead as a modest image of maternal virtue, with unpowdered hair and an informal white cotton morning dress. The youthful mother looks up warmly at the viewer, as just interrupted from her sewing. The crib at her left suggests that she raised her son, Amédée David, at home rather than send him away to a wet nurse, a customary practice at the time. The top of her gown is unbuttoned, implying that she breastfed her son, a practice that had recently gained acceptance among upper-class women. Madame de Pastoret was known for her interest in child rearing: she was an active philanthropist and the founder of the first daycare system in Paris.

Jacques Louis David was one of the most influential artists working in the Neoclassical style at the turn of the 19th century, and he often put his art in the service of contemporary politics. David was, at the time he painted this work, an ardent revolutionary and antiroyalist. The political differences between David and Adelaide’s husband, the Marquis de Pastoret, who was a staunch royalist, may explain why this painting remained unfinished. The loose brushwork of the background and Adelaide’s hair reveal the artist’s initial layers of paint, over which he would have applied the more highly finished final layers that are typical of his work. The marquis refused the portrait during the artist’s lifetime, and it was not until after David’s death that Adelaide’s son purchased the work.

Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar
French, 1762–1834
Virgil Reading the "Aeneid" to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia
1790/93

Oil on canvas
43 3/4 x 56 1/8 in. (111.1 x 142.6 cm)
Inscribed on Virgil's scroll: TU MAR[CELLUS ERIS]
Wirt D. Walker Fund, 1963.258

Jean Baptiste Wicar studied with Jacques Louis David in Rome between 1783 and 1785. This painting depicts the Roman poet Virgil reading his epic poem the Aeneid to the first-century emperor Augustus, his sister Octavia, and his second wife, Livia. In the moment depicted, Octavia faints at the mention in Virgil’s text of her deceased son, Marcellus. Livia catches the fainting Octavia, while Augustus motions toward the author with an alarmed expression. The controlled brushwork and the sculptural poses of the figures in this painting are typical of Neoclassicism. The use of Classical themes in many 18th-century paintings stressed moral principles found in ancient literature and history, but examples such as this one show greater interest in the dramatic and emotional potential of their themes.

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