(b Cluny, 4 Apr. 1758; d Paris, 16 Feb. 1823).
French portrait and historical painter. His main training was at the Dijon Academy, from which he won a scholarship to Rome in 1784. He became a friend of Canova there and formed his style on the example of the sfumato and sensuous charm of Leonardo and Correggio. In 1788 he returned to Paris and after working in obscurity for some time he flourished under Napoleon, becoming a favourite of both his empresses, Josephine and Marie Louise. In addition to painting portraits of the imperial court (Josephine at Malmaison, 1805, Louvre, Paris), he designed decorations for important ceremonies, including Napoleon's marriage to Marie Louise in 1810. He remained in official favour after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, but he painted little in his final years. He had a neurotic personality and the shock of the suicide of his mistress—his pupil Constance Mayer (1775–1821)—hastened his own death.
Of all the leading French painters of his generation, Prud'hon was the most independent in spirit—the only one who did not fall under the dominant influence of J.-L. David. He belongs to both the 18th and the 19th centuries. In his elegance, his grace, and his exquisite fancy he recalls the epoch of Louis XVI (David referred to him slightingly as ‘the Boucher of his time’), but his deep personal feeling aligns him with the Romantics. Gros said of him: ‘He will bestride the two centuries with his seven league boots.’ Among his best-known pictures are Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808, Louvre) and Venus and Adonis (1810–12, Wallace Coll., London). Prud'hon was one of the finest draughtsmen of his time (especially in his nude studies), typically working with black and white chalk on blue or grey paper. However, many of his paintings are in poor condition because of his use of bitumen.