Jacques Louis David (French, 1748–1825)
Oil on canvas
102 1/4 x 76 5/8 in. (259.7 x 194.6 cm)
Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Everett Fahy, 1977 (1977.10)
This is one of the greatest portraits of the eighteenth century, painted when David was at the peak of his powers and had become the standard-bearer of French Neoclassicism. Lavoisier is best known for his pioneering studies of oxygen, gunpowder, and the chemical composition of water. In 1789, his theories were published in the Traité élémentaire de chimie. The illustrations in this book were prepared by his wife, who is believed to have studied with David (a portfolio of her drawings rests on the armchair to the left). Through his post as commissioner of gunpowder, Lavoisier was involved in a political scandal that led him to withdraw the present painting from the Salon of 1789. Despite his service to the Revolutionary regime, he was guillotined along with twenty-seven other tax collectors.