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David J O'Brien

of French and Italian,Center for Global Studies, and Jewish Culture and Society

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David O'Brien’s research focuses on French art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His first book, After the Revolution: Antoine-Jean Gros, Painting,and Propaganda under Napoleon (Penn State, 2006, and translated into French by Gallimard), examines the career of Antoine-Jean Gros, who came to fame painting propaganda for Napoleon.  The book examines the relationship between painting and politics in France, in this instance from the Revolution to the July Monarchy.   O’Brien is currently completing a second book on the idea of civilization in the work of Eugène Delacroix.  Articles by him have appeared in BurlingtonMagazine, French HistoricalStudies, Yale French Studies, French History, Revue de l’art, and in various exhibition catalogues and editedvolumes.

Professor O'Brien has a secondary interest in contemporary art. With David Prochaska he has published the catalog Beyond East and West: Seven Transnational Artists (Krannert Art Museum and University of Washington Press, 2004). He is co-editor of Remembering Brown at Fifty: The University of Illinois Commemorates Brown v Board of Education (University of Illinois Press, 2009), which includes works and essays by artists, writers,scholars and activists about the landmark Supreme Court decision. 

Specializations / Research Interest(s)

  • French art; French artists in North Africa and the Middle East, contemporary art, transnationalism in art.,

Research Description

  • I am currently finishing a book that examines the idea of civilization in the art of Eugène Delacroix.  The book examines the idea in the artist's writings, in mural paintings devoted to the subject, and in paintings of North Africa and of animals.


  • B.A. Harvard University, 1984 M.A. University of Michigan, 1990 Ph.D. University of Michigan, 1995

Distinctions / Awards

  • 2007 Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton Associate, Center for Advanced Study, UIUC 2005 Mellon Grant for Conference on Defining American Art 2004 Peter Norton Family Foundation; 2004 2003-4 Fellow, Center for Democracy in a Multiracial Society 2003 Millard Meiss Publication Grant from the College Art Association 2001-2 Fellow, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities 2000-1 Arnold O. Beckman Award from the Research Board of the University of Illinois 1998-9 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship


  • $24,000 from Terra Foundation for American Art for Study Abroad Program in France and Exchange with the Ecole du Louvre, Paris



  • O'Brien, David . Remembering Brown at Fifty: The University of Illinois Commemorates Brown v. Board of Education. . Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2009.
  • After the Revolution: Antoine-Jean Gros, Painting, and Propaganda under Napoleon. . University Park: Penn State Press, 2006.
  • O'Brien, David. Beyond East and West: Seven Transnational Artists. . Champaign: Krannert Art Museum, 2004.

Book Contributions

  • "Napoleonic Painting, the Museum, and Memory." War Memories in Revolutionary Europe. . London: Palgrave, 2012.

  • "“Exile and Artistic Practice in David’s Letters from Brussels”." David after David. . New Haven: Yale, 2007. 289-298.

Journal Articles

  • "Censorship of Visual Culture in France, 1815-1852." Yale French Studies (2012):
  • "Antonio Canova’s Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker and the Limits of Imperial Portraiture." French History 18 (2004): 354-378.

Encyclopedia Entries

  • "“Orientalism” and “World Heritage”." Encyclopedia of Transnational History. London: Palgrave, 2009.