The Death of Marat is a painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murdered French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. It is one of the most famous images of the Revolution. David was the leading French painter, as well as a Montagnard and a member of the revolutionary Committee of General Security. The painting shows the radical journalist lying dead in his bath on 13 July 1793 after his murder by Charlotte Corday. Painted in the months after Marat’s murder, it has been described by T J Clark as the first modernist painting, for “the way it took the stuff of politics as its material, and did not transmute it”.
Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825) was an influential French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward a classical austerity and severity, heightened feeling chiming with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime.
Painting became an important means of communication for Jacques-Louis David since his face was slashed during a sword fight and his speech became impeded by a benign tumor that developed from the wound, leading him to stammer. He was interested in painting in a new classical style that departed from the frivolity of the Rococo period and reflected the moral and austere climate before the French Revolution.
David became closely aligned with the republican government and his work was increasingly used as propaganda with the Death of Marat proving his most controversial work.