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Joseph Benoît Suvée

1743 Bruges – 1807 Rome

The fate of Joseph Benoît Suvée, a portraitist and painter of historical scenes, is typical of those artists who enjoyed abundant fame and recognition during their lifetime only to fall into oblivion soon after their death. Suvée had a remarkable career in France. In 1763 he began to study at the Paris Academy under Jean-Jacques Bachelier and in the summer of 1765 won the silver medal of that august place of learning. It is a measure of Suvée’s achievement that the bronze medal went to no less a figure than Chardin. In 1771 Suvée scored another succès d’estime when he triumphed over Jacques Louis David in winning the coveted Prix de Rome for his painting The Battle between Minerva and Mars (Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts). From 1772 to May 1778 this ambitious artist studied as a pensionnaire under Natoire and Vien in Rome. In 1780 Suvée was admitted as a member of the Académie Royale, where he was given a professorship in 1792. Although he was appointed director of the Académie de France in Rome the same year he was not able to exercise that prestigious office until 1801. As a painter Suvée was largely instrumental in spreading French artistic taste – that is to say the Neoclassicist style – to his native Flanders.