Antoine-Jean Gros was born into the family of a Parisian miniature painter on 16 March 1771. He received his first lessons in painting from his father; in 1785 he became a pupil of Jacques-Louis David (1748 -1825). During the French Revolution he was accused of sympathy to the royalists, and in 1793 had to leave the country. With the help of his teacher, J.-L. David, he went to Italy, where he lived mainly in Florence and Genoa, making a living from miniatures and portraits.
In 1796 in Milan, Gros was introduced to Napoleon, who would become the subject of Gros’ most renowned paintings. His first commission was Napoleon at Arcola. The painter had only one sitting from the general himself, and that was too short and too sudden. Gros had to paint mostly from his own imagination, in the best tradition of Romanticism. He portrayed the general at a crucial moment in the battle for the bridge of Arcola, with a flag and looking at the troops behind him, urging them to follow. The result was the most vivid study of Bonaparte in action that we have. Later Gros developed this study into a painting with completed composition, of which we know three variants; one of them belonged to Eugène Beauharnais and with his great-grandson, Duke N. N. Lichtenstein, came to Russia.
After returning to France in 1799, Gros regularly participated in Salon exhibitions. Between 1804 and 1810 he executed three heroic paintings featuring Napoleon - Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken at Jaffa, Napoleon on the Battlefield at Eylau and the Battle at the Pyramids. They caused a sensation, and Gros became France's most honored painter. The bright palette and vivid compositions of the works is the result of the influence of Rubens rather than of his teacher. The Romantics, especially Eugène Delacroix, were impressed by the freshness and dynamism of his canvases. But David urged his beloved pupil to reject Romanticism and follow the traditions of the Classical school.
In 1808, he was made a knight (chevalier) of the Legion of Honour, and its officer in 1829. When David went into exile after the fall of Napoleon, Gros took over his studio and succeeded David as professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1816. During the Restoration Gros remained the official portraitist of high society. In 1824 Charles X made him a baron.
Gros tried to work in a more consciously Neoclassical style, but his
lifeless composition on mythological subjects arose much criticism from
the younger generation of painters. He never again approached the quality
of his Napoleonic pictures. Depressed by his failures he committed suicide
by drowning himself in the Seine on 26 June 1835.
Legend on Baron Gros. by A.D. Tchegodayev. in: Essays on Arts
in France, Great Britain and the USA. 18-20 centuries. Moscow. 1978.
Battles of World History. by Walter Markov & Heinz Helmert. Leipzig. 1978.
Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary. Iskusstvo. 1999.