First UK display of drawings by Napoleon’s draughtsman: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, ‘Seated Nude, arm extended’, black and white chalk on blue - tinted paper, © cliché Bernardot - Musée Baron Martin-FranceThe artist’s career spanned almost half a decade, from the Ancient Régime and subsequent Revolution through to the Bourbon Restoration.

LONDON. The exquisite drawings by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823) demonstrate some of the most fluent and delicate figural studies in the history of drawing. They are at once romantic and neoclassical in style, a unique blend which caught the attention of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) during his reign, announced Dulwich Picture Gallery.

On distinctive blue paper and with chalk in hand, Prud’hon’s delicate designs for paintings of allegories and myths, interior decoration and royal festivities encapsulate the refined splendour and pomp of an iconic French era. In the first UK display of his work, Dulwich Picture Gallery will reveal Prud’hon as an artist who emerged as one of the most exceptional talents working in post-Revolutionary Paris.

Study for a ‘Portrait of Joséphine Bonaparte’, black and white chalk on blue - tinted paper, © cliché Bernardot - Musée Baron Martin-FranceTimed to coincide with London’s commemorations surrounding the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815), ‘Prud’hon: Napoleon’s Draughtsman’ (23 June – 15 November 2015) will present a selection of some of the draughtsman’s best work. 12 works on paper come to the UK for the first time from Gray’s Musée Baron Martin, a small museum in eastern France. Ranging from portrait sketches to allegorical compositions and designs for interior decorations, these drawings demonstrate the range of Prud’hon’s skills as a draughtsman.

Taking centre stage in the display will be Prud’hon’s luminous life studies, such as Seated Male Nude, remarkable for their ethereal forms, subtlety of light and shade, and mastery of expression. Prud’hon, unlike many of his contemporaries, drew from the live model throughout his career as it gave him the freedom to focus on certain forms or details without the confines of specific commissions. The bent pose of Standing Female Nude for example allowed Prud’hon to hone in on the figure’s back, capturing the delicate ripple of muscles with an abstract fascination.

Prud’hon’s career spanned almost half a decade, from the Ancien Régime and subsequent Revolution through to the Bourbon Restoration. His reputation, however, as a history and portrait painter to the royal household became firmly established under Napoleon. His informal style of portraiture, free from conventional imperial trappings, appealed particularly to Empress Joséphine (1763-1814) who described his portrait of her, now in the Louvre, as more the work of a friend than a painter.” Josephine sat for Prud’hon 15 times at her home just outside Paris. The sketches that record this encounter are remarkably expressive with rapid, vibrant strokes, Prud’hon’s chalk captures the Empress sitting in easy, informal poses, suggesting a warm rapport between artist and sitter.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, ‘Female Nude’, black and white chalk on blue paper, © cliché Bernardot - Musée Baron Martin-FranceSorcha Ni Lideadha, Assistant Curator at Dulwich, said:

We are greatly looking forward to re-establishing Prud’hon’s reputation as an extraordinarily modern artist, whose drawings evoke a touch of the young Edgar Degas (1834-1917) in their observation and lyricism. By bringing a selection of his drawings to the UK for the first time we hope that a new audience will have the opportunity to sense the living warmth and emotion Prud’hon communicated through his work.”

‘Prud’hon: Napoleon’s Draughtsman’ is co-curated by Sorcha Ní Lideadha, Assistant Curator and Dr Xavier Bray, Arturo & Holly Melosi Chief Curator, at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 12 works are on loan from the Musée Baron Martin, Gray, France with the additional loan of Standing Female Nude from the British Museum, the only life-study by Prud’hon in a UK public collection.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

Born the tenth son of a stonecutter in Burgundy, Pierre Prudon later altered his name to Pierre-Paul Prud’hon as a tribute to Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). In 1783 he won the Dijon Prix de Rome and travelled to the city where he filled sketchbooks with studies of classical sculpture. Upon his return to Paris, Prud’hon’s enthusiasm for Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) forced him into exile in Rigny, near Gray in Franche-Comté, where he executed some of his most beautiful portraits. At 50 years of age Prud’hon was awarded the Légion d’honneur for his Salon entry of 1808, Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime. In 1810 he was commissioned to design the celebrations for Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria (1791-1847). An ill-fated love affair with his pupil and collaborator Constance Mayer (1775-1821), who committed suicide in their studio, caused Prud’hon’s depression and subsequent death.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery, founded in 1811 and designed by Regency architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837). It houses one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the country, especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings and in British portraits from the Tudor period to the 19th century. The Gallery’s Permanent Collection is complemented by its diverse and critically acclaimed year round temporary exhibitions.

Male Nude, black and white chalk on blue - tinted paper, © cliché Bernardot - Musée Baron Martin-France

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Associated Public Events:

Exhibition Lecture: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon:
Napoleon’s Draughtsman
Thursday, 25 June

12.30 – 1.30pm/Linbury Room

Tuesday evening lecture series
7.00 for 7.30pm/Linbury Room

Includes a glass of wine from 7.00pm

Napoleon’s shrinking violet: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
and the art of Bonaparte’s court

7 July

Awarding Prud’hon membership of the Legion d’Honneur, Napoleon dubbed him ‘shy as a violet’. Prud’hon may have lacked the brio of official court painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) and his contemporaries, but he excelled in his innovative portraits and designs for the Bonaparte family. Popular with both Napoleon’s empresses, he brought a softer Romantic approach to the prevailing artistic climate of classical austerity. Lecturer: Jessica Saraga

The Intelligent Touch:
Pierre Paul Prud’hon and the Human Figure
14 July

Supremely gifted as a painter of allegories, Prud’hon gave visual form to ideas and emotions which describe and define the human experience, and he expressed these through the human form. His powerful and lyrical paintings were based on scrupulous study of the body, captured with a talent for drawing which Delacroix (1798-1863) described as ‘the intelligent touch’. This lecture looks at the life and works of Prud’hon and his poetic vision in allegories, mythologies, drawings and unofficial portraits. Lecturer: Alan Read

Practical art for young people:

7-10 yrs

Drawing with Wire

Five Wednesdays from 9 September to 7 October

4.30 – 6 pm

This workshop will encourage you to look closely at the drawings of Prud’hon, making drawings that will transform into 3D wire artworks. Throughout this course you will develop your drawing skills and learn to handle wire with a range of tools. With artist Erica Parrett.

11-14 yrs

Storytelling Through the Figure

Five Thursdays from 10 September to 8 October

4.30 – 6 pm

Take inspiration from Prud’hon’s drawings, spend time exploring the figure and make dynamic and creative responses in 2 and 3D. Experiment with materials and techniques to create drama and atmosphere, and carve out figures to create monumental and statuesque works! With artist Nikki Gardham.

15-18 yrs

Drawing Like Prud’hon

Five Tuesdays from 9 June to 7 July

4.30 – 6 pm

Broaden your approach to drawing, study the work of Prud’hon, and work from the model in a variety of scales and media to improve your skills. This course is ideal for those hoping to build a strong portfolio as well as beginners interested in figure drawing. With artist Jo Lewis.

Paris, Prince of Troy, black and white chalk on blue - tinted paper, © cliché Bernardot - Musée Baron Martin-FrancePractical art: for adults:


Prud’hon Re-figured

Five Saturdays from 8 July to 15 August

10 am – 1pm

Engage creatively with Prud’hon’s drawings as well as the great paintings in the Gallery. Create your own painted compositions inspired by Prud’hon’s work and learn to combine figure drawing and landscape painting. With artist Gareth Cadwallader.


Prud’hon: Figure Drawing

5 Tuesdays from 8 September to 6 October

10.30 am – 12.30 pm

Experience the joy of figure drawing. Throughout this course you will study and sketch from Prud’hon’s master drawings in the Gallery and create drawings from life model in the studio. Work in pencil, charcoal, chalk and conte crayon whilst you learn new techniques and build – up a body of finished drawings. With artist Jo Lewis.

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