In Memoriam Pierre-Paul Prud’hon 2: Nemesis

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1758–1823), Louise Antoinette Lannes, Duchess of Montebello (detail) (date not known), oil on canvas, 55.2 x 48 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Two hundred years ago today, the French artist Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823) died in Paris. In the first of these two articles commemorating his death, I looked at some of his paintings up to his famous portrait of The Empress Joséphine in about 1805. If Prud’hon is remembered today for any of his paintings, it’s surely that below, from three years later.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808), oil on canvas, 244 x 294 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

At the Salon in 1808, Prud’hon exhibited his Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime, one of relatively few paintings of Nemesis. A brigand is seen leaving the scene of his crime, his victim stripped naked, robbed and left for dead. Above are two winged figures: that on the left is regular Justice, bearing a brand; to the right is Nemesis, her sword in her right hand, a bridle and whip in the left.

Among Prud’hon’s many fans was the young Théodore Géricault (1791-1824), who apparently was inspired by its lighting effects for his masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa of 1819. Géricault had copied several of Prud’hon’s paintings, including this one.

Following the Emperor Napoleon’s divorce from Joséphine, and his marriage to the eighteen year-old Marie-Louise of Austria, the new Empress became pregnant, and on 20 March 1811 gave birth to their son, who was soon made King of Rome.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), Portrait of the King of Rome (1811), oil on canvas, 46 x 56 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

That year, Prud’hon painted this Portrait of the King of Rome, setting him asleep in a glade with a waterfall behind. Prud’hon was also involved in decorating a crib for the infant.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), Portrait of David Sintzheim (before 1812), engraving, further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

At some time during this period, he engraved this Portrait of David Sintzheim (before 1812). Sintzheim (1745-1812) was the President of the Grand Sanhedrin, a Jewish High Court convened by Napoleon in 1806, as well as first Grand Rabbi of France and Strasbourg, and is pictured here in formal dress.

Throughout his career, Prud’hon painted many portraits. I show here just one, as it perhaps illustrates his attention to detail.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), Louise Antoinette Lannes, Duchess of Montebello (date not known), oil on canvas, 55.2 x 48 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

This undated portrait of Louise Antoinette Lannes, Duchess of Montebello shows a well-known member of Napoleon’s court, Mistress of the Robes (dame d’honneur) to the Empress Marie-Louise. She lived between 1782-1856, and was the second wife of Marshal Jean Lannes. The detail below shows his painterly depiction of her head-dress.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), Louise Antoinette Lannes, Duchess of Montebello (detail) (date not known), oil on canvas, 55.2 x 48 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), A Grief-Stricken Family (1821), oil on canvas, 27 x 21.3 cm, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

A Grief-Stricken Family, painted by Prud’hon in 1821, is perhaps his only insight into normal French society at the time. He painted this during the Bourbon Restoration, following the exile of Napoleon, a period generally considered to be happy. However, its date coincides with the death of Napoleon on the fifth of May, which may be the cause of this grief.

Two years later, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon died in Paris, leaving at least one unfinished painting in his studio.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823) and Charles Boulanger de Boisfremont (1773–1838), Andromache and Astyanax (1813, 1824), oil on canvas, 132.1 x 170.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

He had started work on Andromache and Astyanax in 1813, apparently intending to sell it to the former Empress Marie-Louise, but seems to have abandoned it. It draws its subject from Racine’s retelling of the tales of the Trojan War. The three women are Andromache, her attendant Cephise, and her boy’s nurse. Andromache is embracing her son Astyanax, and ignoring Pyrrhus, whom she has rejected because his father Achilles had killed Andromache’s husband Hector of Troy. Standing behind Pyrrhus is his tutor Phoenix.

Prud’hon’s pupil and friend Charles Pompée Le Boulanger de Boisfrémont (1773–1838) completed this painting in 1824 before vanishing into his own oblivion.