45.5 x 39.3 cm. (17 15⁄16 x 15 ½ in.)
Black chalk, stump on blue paper
Bears a signature upper right: ’P.P. Prud’hon’
Verso: Study of a Male Academy and Two Figure Studies
Black chalk and sanguine
• France, Private Collection.
• Sylvain Laveissière, Prud’hon ou le rêve du bonheur,, exh. cat. Paris, Grand Palais, New York, Metropolitan Museum, 1997-1998, RMN, 1997.
Considered by Anabelle Godeluck as the poet of beauty and androgynous grace, Prud’hon caught attention very young by obtaining a state scholarship at the age of sixteen. He began his career under François Desvoge, Director of the School of Painting in Dijon and won the Prix de Rome for the Province of Burgundy. After his trip to Italy, he made a place for himself in Paris and was elected a member of the Institute in 1796, a status which gave him access to a studio at the Louvre.
Our drawing is related to a more finished work by Prud’hon, in a similar technique and also on blue paper (ill. 1) which is conserved in the Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD. The latter is itself preparation for an engraving realized in reverse by Jean Prud’hon, Pierre Paul’s son, who became his father’s official engraver. As Sylvain Laveissière has justly emphasized in his exhibition catalogue devoted to Prud’hon, the Baltimore drawing is “a marvel in luminous lightness, in sfumato, in which the pencil takes on the airs of wash.”
Of very beautiful quality, our drawing was probably realized in the same period by one of the artist’s followers. Anchored in Neoclassicism, our drawing presents an antique subject par excellence: a winged putto in profile holding a torch in his left hand seems interrupted in his action by the viewer’s gaze. The subject also is metaphorical, as in bringing his fine fingers to the flame, the distracted putto illustrates the pangs and pains which Love can cause.
On the verso of our folio, we discover different studies of figures in black chalk and sanguine, as well as an academy of a man, are evidence of the importance of studies and preparatory drawings as a means of practicing for the largest compositions. An attentive student, seemingly close to one of the greatest French Neoclassical painters, the artist who produced our drawing skillfully deciphered the subtle stumping techniques which render this study so close to the one which served as it model.
Over and above the question of attribution of the work, the the artist who did our drawing provides us with a beautiful example of the fascination for Antiquity that existed at the turn of the 19th century.
Circle of Pierre Paul PRUD’HON
(Cluny, 1758 – Paris, 1823)
Love Trying Out the Effect of His Torch
Black and white pencil, stumped on blue paper
37 x 29 cm. (14 9/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
The Baltimore Museum of Art