Pierre Prudon was born in Cluny, Burgundy, the tenth son of a stonecutter. Later he changed his name into the more aristocratic sounding Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. He began studying painting at the Dijon Academy under François Devosge at the age of sixteen, and continued his studies at the Paris Academy in 1780. In 1784 he won the Prix de Rome, which gave him a pension to continue his education in Italy, where he stayed from 1785 to 1788. Although this was the period of Jacques-Louis David's triumphs in Rome, Prud'hon remained unimpressed by his countryman's neoclassicism. Italian masters, especially Correggio, had a much stronger and lasting effect on him.
On his return to France Prud'hon settled in Paris, supporting himself with drawings and miniatures. His first important commission, in 1798, was for a ceiling painting on allegorical themes in the palace of Saint-Cloud. This was followed by similar orders.
In 1801, Napoleon gave him commissions for portraits, ceiling decorations, and allegorical paintings. Napoleon's first wife, Joséphine, became his most influential patron, and Prud'hon executed many portraits for the family of the Bonapartes, among them a beautiful portrait of Joséphine. Napoleon's second wife, Marie-Louise, also admired his work, securing many commissions for him and employing him as her drawing master.
Many of his paintings were on mythological and allegorical subjects and were commissioned for public buildings. To these belong Innocence Choosing Love over Wealth, fulfilled together with Marie Françoise Constance Mayer-Lamartiniere, and his celebrated Crime Pursued by Justice and Vengeance (1808). "Prud'hon's true genius lay in allegory; this is his empire and his true domain,” his nephew Eugène Delacroix wrote. Prud'hon also designed furniture and interiors in classical lines.
Though Prud'hon chose the same ‘antique’ subjects as the neoclassicists, his sensitive handling of color and composition are an overpass to Romanticism. The artist died in Paris in 1823.
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