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David, Regnault, Taillasson, Peyron

The painters in this section were nurtured in the Académie Royale of the ancien régime but lived through a cataclysmic time in which the beheading of the King in 1793 and the crowning of Napoleon in 1804 created radical challenges for the artistic, as well as political, leaders of France. Jacques-Louis David embraced those challenges in a way that defined the artistic age in which he lived, overthrowing the voluptuous pleasures of Boucher’s Rococo style with a stringent neo-classicism that would eventually lead the way to the Romanticism of Géricault and Delacroix. Regnault, Taillasson, and Peyron each contributed memorably to the neo-classical revolution that David came to symbolize. The French neo-classicism of this transitional period might be said to combine the urgency of a Vernet shipwreck with the stasis of a Saint-Aubin cul-de-lampe.

Melville’s five prints after David, Peyron, Regnault, and Taillasson are all outline engravings published in London for inclusion in the Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings between 1807 and 1809. In subject matter, they all depict scenes from the ancient history of classical Greece or Rome. In art history, they depict recent developments in French art in the form of paintings that had been exhibited in Paris in 1787, 1798, 1799, 1804, and 1806. In the latter sense, these engravings are close companions to Melville’s outline engraving of the statue of Nicolas Poussin that the sculptor Julien had completed in Paris in 1804, also from the Historic Gallery (CAT 136). As outline engravings, they also relate closely to the four engravings after paintings by Poussin created for the Historic Gallery between 1807 and 1810 (CAT 137-141). Outline engravings rob paintings of their sometimes striking coloristic effects, but at the same time they emphasize the degree to which Poussin’s own neo-classical sense of formal control created a kind of static tension that influenced the way in which David and his contemporaries deployed figures on canvas in response to political change.

    • Works cited in this section:
    • Adams, Elizabeth. “The Oath of the Pequod: Moby-Dick, Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii, and the Aesthetic of the Distinct.” Leviathan 24.1 (March 2022): 3-23.
    • Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. “Jean-Baptiste Regnault.” In De David de Delacroix, 570-577.
    • De David à Delacroix: La Peinture française de 1774 à 1830. Catalog for exhibition at Grand Palais, Paris, 1974-75. Éditions des musées Nationaux.
    • The Guide to the Galleries of Paintings of the Imperial Museum of the Louvre in 1855. Paris: De Soye and Bouchet, 1855.
    • The Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings, 7 vol. London: Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, 1807-19. Abbreviated hereafter as HG. Accessible online at
    • Lacambre, Jean. “Jean-Joseph Taillasson”. In De David a Delacroix. Cat. no. 172, pp. 617-19.
    • Lee, Simon. “David, Jacques-Louis.” Grove, 8: 554-62.
    • Mouilleseaux, J.-P. “Taillasson, Jean-Joseph.” Grove, 30: 238-39.
    • Parker, Hershel. Herman Melville: A Biography, vol. 1, 1819-1851. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
    • Rosenberg, P., and U. van de Sandt. Pierre Peyron, 1744-1814. Neuilly-sur-Seine: Arthena, 1983.
    • Rosenblum, Robert. Transformations in Late Eighteenth-Century Art. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.
    • Sells, Christopher.  “Regnault, Jean-Baptiste.” Grove, 26: 93-94. 
    • van de Sandt, Udolpho. “Peyron, (Jean-François-) Pierre.” Grove, 24: 583-84.