It is hardly surprising that the art of France reflected the shattering changes brought about by the French Revolution. In subject, in mood, and in technique, these changes are evident in this work by Jacques-Louis David. His painting illustrates the Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat who was stabbed to death by Charlotte Corday as he was bathing. (Marat suffered from a painful skin disease caught while he was hiding in the sewers, and he could only find relief by sitting in a warm bath.) Corday sympathized with the Girondists, who felt that Marat was a cruel tyrant.
Because of its bizarre circumstances, Marat’s assassination was not a conventional subject for a painting. But David-himself a revolutionary who at one time presided over the National Convention-was a celebrated artist and succeeded in creating a moving and forceful painting. In Marat’s hand is a letter from his assassin. The knife that she plunged into his chest lies on the floor. The painting’s stark drama is highlighted by David’s simple inscription, “To Marat.”