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Pierre-Paul Prud'hon

Painter, Miniaturist and Draughtsman

1758 in Cluny
1823 in Paris

One Work by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon


Prud'hon managed to learn his art without recourse to the usual career stages at the Paris Academy and the Académie de France in Rome. Of humble origins, he instead received his first training in the 'école de Dessin' in Dijon directed by F. Devosges. This was followed by a stay in Paris in 1780-83 and four years in Rome (until 1788), thanks to a scholarship from his hometown art school. There, as well, Prod'hon avoided the defining influence of J.-L. David and his circle, and instead maintained contact with the sculptor Canova and German artists. Associated with revolutionary circles in Paris after his return, he first made a living with book illustrations and portrait paintings. M. Frochot, prefect of the Département de la Seine, became an influential sponsor who arranged major commissions, including decorations in the Palais de la Cité - and above all access to newly formed social circles at the time. Napoleon Bonaparte, Joséphine Beauharnais and also his second wife Marie Louise of Austria, valued Prod'hon's art and repeatedly commissioned him with paintings or designs for interior and festival decorations. In a public competition in 1794, Prud'hon won first prize for the drawing 'La Sagesse et la Vérité' (inv. no. 16337), and the contract for a large ceiling painting (1799). This was the beginning of a series of allegorical paintings, some interpreting contemporary events, to which Prud'hon owes his place in art history. These paintings did not always meet with undivided acclaim, and were later often badly compromised by their state of preservation, yet from a present-day point of view they represent an important contrast to the history painting of a J.-L. David. They are precursors of Romantic notions of art that were recognised and described by E. Delacroix (see his article in the 'Revue de deux Mondes', 1 November 1846). One of the most important of them is 'La Justice et la Vengeance divine poursuivant le crime', from 1808. To contemporary thinking, what was new about Prud'hon's art was the fact that he did not depict his subjects objectively, but with a kind of 'sfumato' painting borrowed from Correggio and Leonardo that gave his works a suggestive quality and the nature of an imaginary figuration. Prud'hon's drawings, made in preparation for his paintings or as autonomous works, accord with his painterly style and pictorial concept. Generally drawing on coloured paper with black and white crayon, Prud'hon avoided overuse of line, and instead softly worked up his volumes with blurring and dim light effects, so that they seem both remote and present at the same time. With his approach to drawing, Prud'hon was an important precursor of such later artists as Fantin-Latour and especially Odilon Redon.

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