Pierre-Paul Prud'hon was an outspoken supporter for the French Revolution.  He became very famous for this support and was asked by Napoleon to paint a portrait of Empress Josephine. Prud’hon is best known for his abstract paintings and his portraits.  Most of his paintings were made during the Revolution. Before Prud'hon's wife, who was in a sanitarium for her mental illness died, his mistress, Constance Mayer committed suicide after hearing Prud'hon say that he would not marry her.

On April 4, 1758 Pierre Paul Prud'hon was born in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France.  He traveled to Dijon to study painting in 1774.  Prud'hon's success as a student caught the attention of a nobleman from the Saône Et Loire district who arranged for Prud'hon to study at the Royal Academy in Paris.  Prud'hon was given an award at the academy that was called the Prix de Rome.  This award was given to artists who showed great promise.  Along with this award Prud'hon was paid by the academy to go study art in Italy, where he stayed until 1788.

It is very ironic that although Prud'hon was such a strong supporter of the French Revolution, most of his paintings generally were very charming and had such a sentimental appeal.  These artistic styles helped to distinguish his life's work from the more harsh style of his contemporaries. Prud'hon started showing his paintings in the Paris exhibitions in 1791. During the Revolution in the early 1790s he would retreat to Burgundy. However, in 1796 he would move to Paris.

By 1800, Prud'hon was well known in the aristocratic groups that surrounded Napoleon. In 1801, Prud'hon was appointed to be the drawing master  for Napoleon's first wife, Empress Josephine, and was also appointed to be the drawing master to Napoleon's second wife, the Empress Marie Louise. Prud'hon would also receive many commissions from the Napoleonic government.

Many of Prud'hon's paintings were on subjects from mythology and abstract art.  A significant number of his works were commissioned to be displayed on public buildings. In a painting titled "Innocence Choosing Love over Wealth", Prud'hon would paint this with his mistress and student Constance Mayer.  This was to be the first of many artistic collaborations between Prud'hon and Mayer.

Eugene Delacroix who was Prud'hon's nephew wrote:

"Prud'hon's true genius lay in allegory; this is his empire and his true domain.  In 1816 he gained membership in the Institute de France. An ill-fated love affair with a pupil and collaborator who committed suicide in his studio caused Prud'hon's depression and subsequent death."

Prud'hon married when he was just nineteen.  This marriage was a disaster.  In 1801, Constance Mayer confronted Prud'hon and asked if he would consider marrying her when his wife died, to which he replied "Never".  After hearing his answer Constance took her own life by cutting her throat with Prud'hon's razor, and she died with a broken heart.  After her suicide in 1801 his health suffered greatly.  Prud'hon died two years later in 1803, the same year his wife died. Although Prud'hon was married, he is buried next to Constance in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Many of Prud'hon's paintings are still on display in museums around the world, such as:

  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • The Wallace Collection, London
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • Louvre Museum, Paris
  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California
  • Museo Glauco Lombardi, Parma, Italy
  • J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
  • Museo Napoleonico, Rome
  • Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
  • Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy

Although Prud'hon is credited for all of these artworks, it was Constance Mayer who actually painted most of his works.  He would sketch out the basic layout of the painting and Constance would do the actual painting.


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