Pierre-Paul Prud’hon was born in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire. He received his training in the French provinces and went to Italy when he was twenty-six years old to continue his education. On his return to Paris, he decorated some private mansions and his work for wealthy Parisians led him to be held in high esteem at Napoleon‘s court.
His painting of Josephine portrays her, not as an Empress but as a lovely attractive woman which led some to think that he might have been in love with her. After the divorce of Napoleon and Josephine, he was also employed by Napoleon’ s second wife Marie-Louise.
Prud’hon was at times clearly influenced by Neo-classicism, at other times by Romanticism. Appreciated by other artists and writers like Stendhal, Delacroix, Millet and Baudelaire for his chiaroscuro and convincing realism, he is probably most famous for his Crucifixion (1822), which he painted for St. Etienne‘s Cathedral in Metz. Crucifixion now hangs in the Louvre.
The young Théodore Géricault had painted copies of work by Prud’hon, whose “thunderously tragic pictures” include his masterpiece, Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime.