Prud'hon was one of the leading history painters in France around 1800. In his strong preference for allegories and his eclectic style based on Renaissance and baroque models he stood out in a situation largely defined by Jacques-Louis David and his school.
The painter was born Pierre Prudon on 4 April 1758 in Cluny, the son of a stone carver. He studied in Dijon 1774-1778, married in 1778, then worked mainly for a local nobleman, the baron de Joursanvault, and, after a period in Paris 1780-1783, returned to win the Dijon prix de Rome of the estates of Burgundy in 1784. He stayed in Rome until 1788, then returned to Paris and produced vignettes, book illustrations and small anecdotal paintings. He first exhibited at the Salon of 1791, then continuously until (posthumously) in 1824. After a period at Rigny (Franche-Compté) in 1795/1796, his career started to blossom. In 1798-1801 he worked on his first large decorative scheme for the Hôtel de Lannoy in Paris.In the following years he obtained important commissions from the state and from Napoléon's circle including two ceilings for the Louvre, 1801-1803, state portraits and designs for state occasions (such as the Sacre in 1805, the celebration of Tilsit in 1807, the portrait of Joséphine and the arrival of Marie-Louise in 1810). In 1805-1808, he painted one of his masterworks, an allegory of justice and vengeance for the Palais de Justice in Paris (Paris, Musée du Louvre). He was made chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1808 and in 1810 became drawing master to the Empress Marie-Louise.
From 1802 he lived separate from his wife who has developed a major mental illness. In 1803, Constance Mayer became one of his pupils. The two painters soon developed a love relationship. In 1821 he was much affected by her suicide and he died, in some misery, in Paris on 16 February 1823.