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Nicolas Poussin

Et in Arcadia ego by Nicolas Poussin.
Et in Arcadia ego by Nicolas Poussin.

Nicolas Poussin (June 1594November 19, 1665) was a French painter.

Poussin was the founder and greatest practitioner of 17th century French classical painting. His work symbolizes the virtues of clarity, logic, and order. It has influenced the course of French art up to the present day.

He spent most of his working life painting in Rome except for a short period when Cardinal Richelieu ordered him back to France as Painter for the King.

Until the 20th century he remained the dominant inspiration for such classically oriented artists as Jacques Louis David and Paul Cezanne.


He was born near Les Andelys, now in the Eure département, in Normandy. Early sketches attracted the notice of Quentin Varin , a local painter, whose pupil Poussin became, till he went to Paris, where he entered the studio of Ferdinand Elle , a Fleming, and then of the Lorrainer L'Allemand . He found French art in a stage of transition: the old apprenticeship system was disturbed, and the academical schools destined to supplant it were not yet established; but, having met Courtois the mathematician, Poussin was fired by the study of his collection of engravings after Italian masters.

After two abortive attempts to reach Rome, he fell in with the chevalier Marini at Lyon. Marini employed him on illustrations to his poems, took him into his household, and in 1624 enabled Poussin (who had been detained by commissions in Lyon and Paris) to rejoin him at Rome. There, his patron having died, Poussin fell into great distress. Falling ill he was received into the house of his compatriot Dughet and nursed by his daughter Anna Maria to whom in 1629, Poussin was married.

Among his first patrons were Cardinal Barberini , for whom was painted the Death of Germanicus (Barberini Palace ); Cardinal Omodei , for whom he produced, in 1630, the Triumphs of Flora (Louvre); Cardinal de Richelieu, who commissioned a Bacchanal (Louvre); Vicenzo Giustiniani , for whom was executed the Massacre of the Innocents, of which there is a first sketch in the British Museum; Cassiano dal Pozzo , who became the owner of the first series of the Seven Sacraments (Belvoir Castle); and Fiart de Chanteloup , with whom in 1640 Poussin, at the call of Sublet de Noyers , returned to France.

Louis XIII conferred on him the title of first painter in ordinary, and in two years at Paris he produced several pictures for the royal chapels (the Last Supper, painted for Versailles, now in the Louvre) and eight cartoons for the Gobelins, the series of the Labors of Hercules for the Louvre, the Triumph of Truth for Cardinal Richelieu (Louvre), and much minor work.

In 1643, disgusted by the intrigues of Simon Vouet, Feuquires and the architect Lemercier, Poussin withdrew to Rome. There, in 1648, he finished for De Chanteloup the second series of the Seven Sacraments (Bridgewater Gallery ), and also his noble landscape with Diogenes throwing away his Scoop (Louvre); in 1649 he painted the Vision of St Paul (Louvre) for the comic poet Scarron, and in 1651 the Holy Family (Louvre) for the duke of Crqui . Year by year he continued to produce an enormous variety of works, many of which are included in the list given by Flibien . He died in Rome on November 19, 1665 and was buried in the church of St Lawrence in Lucina, his wife having predeceased him.

Poussin left no children, but he adopted as his son Gaspar Dughet (Gasparo Duche), his wife's brother, who took the name of Poussin.


The finest collection of Poussin's paintings as well as of his drawings is possessed by the Louvre; but, besides the pictures in the National Gallery and at Dulwich, England possesses several of his most considerable works: The Triumph of Pan is at Baisildon (Berkshire), and his great allegorical painting of the Arts at Knowsley. At Rome, in the Colonna and Valentini Palace s, are notable works by him, and one of the private apartments of Prince Doria is decorated by a great series of landscapes in distemper.

Throughout his life he stood aloof from the popular movement of his native school. French art in his day was purely decorative, but in Poussin we find a survival of the impulses of the Renaissance coupled with conscious reference to classic work as the standard of excellence. In general we see his paintings at a great disadvantage, for the color, even of the best preserved, has changed in parts, so that the keeping is disturbed; and the noble construction of his designs can be better seen in engravings than in the original. Amongst the many who have reproduced his works Audran, Claudine Stella, Picart and Pesne are the most successful.

Poussin was a prolific artist, some of his many works are:

  • Some of the paintings by Poussin at the Louvre, Paris:
    • Plague at Ashdod
    • The Judgment of Solomon (1649)
    • The Blind Men of Jericho (1650)
    • The Adulteress (1653)
    • Arcadian Shepherd
  • A few of Poussin’s other paintings:
    • Adoration of the Golden Calf (National Gallery, London);
    • Holy Family on the Steps (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.);
    • Cacus (St. Petersburg);
    • The Testament of Eudamidas (Copenhagen);
    • Hebrews Gathering Manna (1639);
    • Moses Rescued from the Waters (1647);
    • Eliezer and Rebecca (1648);
    • Seven Sacraments (double series - the first series is in the Bridgewater Gallery, London and the second is in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh).

External link and references

  • Landscape with the ashes of Phocion at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
  • This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

See Sandrart, A cad. nob, art. pict.; Lettres de Nicolas Poussin (Paris, 1824); Flibien, Entretiens; Gault de St Germain, Vie de Nicolas Poussin (1806); DArgenville, Abrg de Ia vie des peintres; Bouchitt, Poussin et son wuvre (1858); Emilia F. S. Pattison (Lady Dilke), Documents indits, Le Poussin, in LAn (1882).

Last updated: 02-10-2005 13:36:55
Last updated: 02-26-2005 13:24:51