|Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Jacobus Blauw
David’s portraits of the mid-1790s – M. and Mme. Sériziat, Mlle. Tallard, M. Blauw, M. Meyer – certainly bear witness to a pause for moral reflection. Their simplicity of approach, their appreciation of the integrity of the sitter, their uncharacteristic lack of tension, possibly Mme. Sériziat’s posy of flowers, may be intimately bound up with this brief attempt by David to discover a new code of conduct.
Brookner, Jacques-Louis David, Ch. 9, 'Reversal'
[Haffenden:] What is your criterion for judging what is most valuable in a work of art?
[Brookner:] That's very difficult to answer. I think it would be radiance, a power beyond the image: vision. The National Gallery has just bought a portrait by David called M. Blauw, and I think I'll find it there: it's only a portrait of a man with a quill pen, but it is so articulate and has such integrity.
Haffenden interview, Novelists in Interview, 1985
The National Gallery made a big thing of acquiring M. Blauw. I remember an advertising poster my college tutor Dr Keymer had on the wall of his office in the early 90s. It always made me think of Brookner. Dr Keymer owned a copy of Latecomers too, as I recall.
Brookner's comments on the Jacques-Louis David portraits of the mid-1790s are of interest. One thinks of her own middle period. There is about A Family Romance and A Private View, for example, something of the qualities she identifies in David's pictures. A pause for moral reflection.
Madame Pierre Sériziat, née Émilie Pécoul,
et un de ses fils,
Émile, né en 1793, Louvre