Aug 15, 2013

Phryne before Her Judges

Phryne before Her Judges

c. 1816–20

Jacques-Louis David

(French, 1748–1825)

Black chalk on wove paper discolored to beige

Support: Medium-weight, wove paper

Sheet: 13.3 x 19.6 cm (5 1/4 x 7 11/16 in.)

Gift in memory of Helen Borowitz 2013.249

Catalogue raisonné: Rosenberg and Prat 351


Did you know?

The two male figures at center may be têtes d’expression, which convey emotion through pose and expression.


Known in his own time for large-scale paintings on historical subjects, Jacques-Louis David drew avidly to plan his compositions. Late in life, however, his use of drawing changed dramatically, resulting in works such as this pair. After falling out of political favor during the French Revolution (1789–99), David moved to Brussels in exile. There, he crafted small, enigmatic drawings of close-up figures. Phryne features a mythological courtesan charged with blasphemy, while The Prisoner is vaguer, with an unidentifiable man grimacing alongside a chain and oil lamp. David embraced this uncertainty, writing at the time that “I just threw down . . . the mad ideas that came into my head.”

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