Jean-Jacques Pradier

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Jean-Jacques Pradier (1790 – 1852) was a Genevan-born French sculptor best known for his work in the neoclassical style.


Life and work

Born in Geneva (then Republic of Geneva), Pradier was the son of a Protestant family from Toulouse. He left for Paris in 1807 to work with his elder brother, Charles-Simon Pradier, an engraver, and also attended the École des Beaux-Arts beginning in 1808. He won a Prix de Rome that enabled him to study in Rome from 1814 to 1818 at the Villa Medici. Pradier made his debut at the Salon in 1819 and quickly acquired a reputation as a competent artist. He studied under Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in Paris. In 1827 he became a member of the Académie des beaux-arts and a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts[1]

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Pradier oversaw the finish of his sculptures himself. He was a friend of the Romantic poets Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, and the young Gustave Flaubert. His workshop was a meeting place for artists, presided over by his mistress, Juliette Drouet, who became Victor Hugo’s mistress in 1833. After the liaison with Drouet ended, Pradier married Louise d’Arcet (1814-1885), daughter of the French chemist Jean-Pierre-Joseph d’Arcet, in 1833. They separated in 1845, after Pradier had become aware of her infidelities. They had three children: Charlotte (1834), John (1836), and Thérèse (1839). Due to her numerous lovers and her complicated financial life, Louise Pradier was among the inspirations for Flaubert when he wrote Madame Bovary.

Victories surrounding Napoleon’s tomb, Les Invalides
The cool neoclassical surface finish of Pradier’s sculptures is charged with an eroticism that their mythological themes can barely disguise. At the Salon of 1834, Pradier’s Satyr and Bacchante created a scandalous sensation. Some claimed to recognize the features of the sculptor and his mistress, Juliette Drouet. When the prudish government of Louis-Philippe refused to purchase it, Count (later Prince) Anatoly Nikolaievich Demidov bought it and took it to his palazzo in Florence – though many years later it would finally be on display in France, part of the Louvre’s collection.