(b. 1743, Laon, d. 1811, Paris)


French painter and draughtsman. In 1764 he entered the studio of Noël Hallé, whose work strongly influenced his early paintings. Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot (Paris, Ecole Normal Supérieur des Beax-Arts), with which he won the Prix de Rome in 1767, is a brilliant exercise in the grand academic style as conceived by the followers of François Boucher. After a period at the Ecole Royale des Eleves Protégés he completed his training at the Académie de France in Rome from 1771 to 1774. Before his departure for Rome he had already gained a successful reputation based on the ceiling he executed on commission from the Comte de Saint-Florentin. He arrived in Rome in October, 1770, and correspondence from the director of the Académie Français, Charles-Joseph Natoire to the Surintendent des Bâtiments, Marigny, praised his work.

Although he formed friendships with the painters François-Guillaume Ménageot, François-André Vincent and Joseph-Benoît Suvée and the architects Pierre-Adrien Pâris and Jean-Jacques-Marie Huvé, his artistic activity during his years in Rome is obscure. A number of spectacular drawings in red chalk, such as those of the Villa d'Este, Tivoli (Orléans, Musée des Beaux-Arts) and the Villa Colonna and Villa Negroni (Valence, Musés des Beax-Arts), are the only evidence of Berthélemy's talent for landscape, while an oil study of a Dying Warrior (Los Angeles, County Museum of Art) is the only known surviving example of the works he was obliged, like the other pensionnaires, to send to Paris for scrutiny. Fragonard, traveling in the company of the collector Bergeret de Grancourt, visited Berthélemy and noted a study of Raphael and Michelangelo. He returned to Paris in 1774 and was agréé as a history painter.

Most of his commissions were large-scale public works including two ceilings for the Hôtel de la Vrillière and for the Embassy of Austria. He had a variety of interests during his life: in 1791 he became an official costume designer for the Opéra, in 1796 he was appointed to a commission for the research of science and art in Italy, and returned there for some time obtaining works for a Paris exhibition. He acted as curator of the Central Museum of Arts between 1798-1810, and his last works include frescoes for the Musée des Antiquités at the Louvre.

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