(b Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, 4 April 1758; d Paris, 16 Feb 1823)
French painter and draughtsman. Prud’hon is best known for his allegorical paintings and portraits, most of which were done during the turbulent years of the Revolution (1789–99) and the heroic years of the First Empire (1804–15). It is paradoxical that, while actively supporting the rigorous social reforms of the Jacobins and seeking approval in Napoleonic circles, Prud’hon should have produced work that generally shows great charm and sentimental appeal; these qualities distinguish his oeuvre from the more austere Neo-classicism of David and his school and place him historically in close relation to an earlier 18th-century European tradition of sensibilité and to the Anacreontic manner that was fashionable with a number of artists working in Italy when he was there. His letters from Rome contain statements of admiration for the noble and graceful forms of ancient statuary and for the work of Raphael; but these are balanced by an equal admiration for the handling of expression by Leonardo da Vinci and Anton Raphael Mengs. Later, in Paris, while he analysed physiognomy and gesture in the work of Poussin, he also studied the subtle chiaroscuro in Correggio’s work and the tenebrist practice of Caravaggio and applied these to his mythological and religious works. Prud’hon’s style is thus characterized by a softer, more lyrical form of Neo-classicism and occasionally by a dark and disquieting Romanticism. His independence from his Parisian contemporaries can be attributed partly to his idiosyncratic choice of models for study and partly to influences from patrons and teachers during his formative years.