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 Pierre-Paul Prud'hon  (1758 - 1823)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: neo-classical, rococo painting-figure and genre

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

A Rococo artist whose career spanned many political changes in France including the French Revolution, the Empire of Napolean and the Bourban Restoration, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon painted for more than 40 years.  He was especially noted for his depictions of female figures and of "huge, amorous allegories" (Stern), which have become prime examples of Rococo era art.  Emperor Napolean gave public endorsement of Prud'hon by commissioning him to do portraits of the Empress Josephine and Marie-Louise and to give them drawing lessons.  In fact, Prud'hon became a good friend of the Empress, who with this friendship was able somewhat to counter the dominating persona of Jacques David (1748-1825) whose influence controlled the Academy and much public about opinion about aesthetics.

In his era, Prud'hon was appreciated for his aesthetics, which were regarded as much more focused on pure beauty and mood than the cold, academic approach of David and his followers.  Of particular influence on Prud'hon was the painting of the Italian, Michelangelo Caravaggio (1560-1609), whose work was soft, elegant and languid.

Prud'hon was born in Cluny to a family of ten children supported by a father who was a stonecutter.  At age 16, he began study with Francois Devosge at Dijon, France, and in 1776, he enrolled in the Royal Academy.  In 1784, he won the Prix de Rome, and after the official year of that scholarship terminated, he remained another three years in Rome, studying the artwork of the ancients and of the Roman Catholic Church. 

He exhibited his paintings at the Paris Salon beginning 1791, and also did book illustration to supplement his income.  However, a source of ongoing tension for him was the persistent criticism by David, which slowed Prud'hon's entry into the Salon, a membership he achieved in 1816.

He married at age 20, and the relationship was not happy, although they had six children.  From 1803 until 1821, he had another female companion, a student named Constance Mayer, but she committed suicide two years before his death.

Although Prud'hon was famous during his lifetime, his name has not remained in the forefront of French painters.  To revive interest in him and to show his expertise with the brush, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City held the first U.S. solo exhibition of his work in March-June, 1998.

Fred Stern, "pierre-paul prud'hon: romantic allegorist",

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