Five Classical Figures

1809Jacques-Louis DavidFrench, 1748–1825pen and ink, crayon, and wash14 3/4 in. × 19 in. (37.47 cm. × 48.26 cm.)

Gift of Miss Susan Dwight Bliss


The painter Jacques-Louis David was an early and prominent proponent of the Neoclassical movement that began in France in the late eighteenth century. Much like his American contemporaries, throughout his career—which spanned the fall of the Ancien Régime, the First French Republic, and the rise and fall of Napoleon—David drew deeply on ancient myth and history as source material for comprehending and critiquing the politics of the day. This study shows three soldiers confronting a pair claiming sanctuary before the statue of a god, possibly Ares based on the companion dog at the statue’s side. 

David’s grand history paintings, many of which featured classical subjects, inaugurated the shift in French art and aesthetics from the Rococo style of Louis XV to the more restrained and formal style of Neoclassicism, which drew inspiration from antiquity. David trained in Rome, where he filled his sketchbooks with studies of ancient sculptures and Old Masters and made excursions to Pompeii, only recently excavated. In Rome, David also studied with the German painter Anton Mengs (1728–1779), an antiquarian who introduced the young artist to the writings of Joachim Johann Winckelmann (1717–1768), the first historian of classical art.

—Sean P. Burrus

Susan Dwight Bliss

Sole heir to wealthy financier George T. (1816–1901) and Jeanette Dwight Bliss (1852–1924), Susan Dwight Bliss was a New York collector and philanthropist. She inherited a sizeable collection of ancient Mediterranean and historic European art from her parents, prominent collectors of the Gilded Age, and continued to collect rare books, manuscripts, and historic art and artifacts herself.