The Sériziats and Jacques-Louis David were related through marriage. David’s wife was Marguerite Charlotte Pécoul, whom he had married in 1782 and who at the time was about half his age. Marguerite’s sister was Emilie Pécoul. She became Madame Sériziat when she married Pierre Sériziat. Pierre was a rather dapper and elegant looking fellow who might be described as a dandy. He was also wealthy and owned a country home in Favières (Seine-et-Marne), near Tournane-en Brie, about twenty miles east of Paris.
David was a French painter of the Neoclassical style and considered to be the preeminent painter of the Georgian era. He was also a Jacobin, supporter of the French Revolution, and a friend of Maximilien Robespierre. In addition, he was a member of the National Convention and voted for King Louis XVI’s death, which so upset his wife she divorced him in 1793.
Despite the divorce, David continued to support the revolution. He attacked royalist works and painted propaganda that promoted and helped the new republic. One historical and political painting was “The Oath of the Tennis Court.” This painting was meant to commemorate the event, but it remained unfinished in 1792 because political times had changed, and some people did not consider the revolutionaries at the tennis court heroes by that time. Another political painting that was completed was of his friend, Jean-Paul Marat.
Marat was assassinated by Charlotte Corday on 13 July 1793. David’s tribute to Marat was the painting “The Death of Marat.” In fact, the painting became his masterpiece, and when David presented it to the Convention he declared:
“Citizens … the people were again calling for their friend; their desolate voice was heard? ‘David take up your brushes … avenge Marat … I heard the voice of the people. I obeyed.'”
This painting provided a powerful political message that immortalized Robespierre’s Reign of Terror and turned Marat into a martyr. However, although David may have supported Robespierre, not everyone did, and thus David and Robespierre found themselves facing danger. Although David had been fortunate to escape arrest and avoid being guillotined with Robespierre on 28 July 1794, David was not overlooked by the National Convention for his radical leanings.
Less than a week later, on 2 August 1794, David was arrested and thrown into prison. David remained imprisoned until 28 December 1794. While imprisoned, he painted his own portrait. However, the portrait showed him as a much younger man than his 46 years at the time.
When he was released, David was so ill that he requested the Convention allow him to visit his ex-wife’s sister, Emilie, and her husband Pierre. His requested was granted and he traveled to their country home in Favières. David’s visit with his in-laws did not last long. He was rearrested again on 29 May.
Luckily, David’s second stint in prison only lasted a few months. He was released on 3 August 1795. During his time in jail, Marguerite visited him, and her concern and love for him resulted in her remarrying him in 1796. When David was released a second time, it was a provisional release. He was accompanied by a guard and placed under the custody of his brother-in-law, Pierre. It seems that David was highly indebted to Pierre because it was through Pierre’s tremendous efforts that David was finally liberated. Perhaps, in payment for Pierre’s help, David then painted the Sériziats.
David’s portrait of the pretty and elegant Madame Sériziat was painted indoors with her seated on a red bench. She is dressed in a creamy white gown with a green ribbon tied at the waist, holding a bunch of wild flowers, and clasping the hand of her young golden-haired son. They look as if perhaps they have returned from a walk.
The companion to the portrait of Madame Sériziat was an oil painting of Pierre in a hunting costume. Pierre was painted outdoors, a background of clouds in the distance, with him seated in the forefront on a rock and holding a whip. Pierre is dressed in English breeches, a frock coat, white double-button waistcoat, white cravat, and cavalier boots. He is also wearing a felt hat, which features France’s national cockade on its left side.
Both portraits were lauded and showed David as a new painter, one that was moving on from political and historical genre. However, the paintings also show that he was still a first-class painter despite his trials and tribulations. Critics also noted that his portrait of Pierre was the only painting he ever painted with a landscape.
The paintings of the Sériziats were later exhibited at the Salon de peinture, and, today, they can be found in the Louvre Museum. One twenty-first author asserts David “delicately suggested the end of the extreme republican movement [with the paintings of Sériziats].”
Nineteenth and twentieth century French historian Fréderick Masson once remarked on David’s paintings too. He stated:
“This portrait [of Pierre] and the one of Madame Sériziat … are among the most beautiful ever painted by David. They seem, indeed, to stamp his achievement with a renewal of freshness, grace, and joyousness attributable to the circumstances under which they were executed, and the object which he had in mind in painting them.”
- Bodner, Andrea, Jacques-Louis David, 2015
- Dowd, David Lloyd, Art as Propaganda in the French Revolution, 1949
- Holmes, Mary Taverner, French Art of the Eighteenth Century, 2016
- Martins, Luiz Renato, The Conspiracy of Modern Art, 2017
- Masters in Art, Volume 7, 1906