Poussin’s Season

Nicolas Poussin 1594–1665 Paris, September 1994–January 1995, by

catalog of the exhibition at the Grand Palais, Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 558 pp., FF350 (paper)

Nicolas Poussin 1594–1665 January 19–April 9, 1995, by Richard Verdi and others.

catalog of the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London,
Zwemmer/Royal Academy of Art, 336 pp., $70.00

Nicolas Poussin 1594–1665: Catalogue raisonné des dessins

by Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat
Leonardo Editore, distributed in the US by Ars Libri, two volumes, 1,217 pp., $700.00

Nicolas Poussin: La Collection du Musée Bonnat à Bayonne

by Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 86 pp., FF100

Poussin before Rome, 1594–1624

by Jacques Thuillier, translated by Christopher Allen
Richard L. Feigen, 190 pp., £40.00

Nicolas Poussin: La Collection du Musée Condé à Chantilly

by Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 240 pp., FF195

Nicolas Poussin

by Anthony Blunt
Pallas Athene/to be distributed in the US by Boydell and Brewer, 687 pp., $39.95 (paper)

Nicolas Poussin

by Jacques Thuillier
Flammarion, 288 pp., FF195 (paper)

Autour de Poussin Musée du Louvre, 1994, by

Dossier-Exposition du Département des Peintures, Gilles Chomer and Sylvain Laveissiére
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 120 pp., FF150

Poussin's Paintings: A Study in Art-Historical Methodology

by David Carrier
Pennsylvania State University Press, 276 pp., $35.00


The fourth centenary of the birth of Nicolas Poussin has been celebrated by a series of major, and also minor but important, exhibitions in Paris (a city that he abandoned at the earliest possible opportunity) and in London (where he had never been). Meanwhile in Rome (where he spent almost his entire working life) the anniversary has inspired the mounting of a small but—to judge from the admirable catalog1—enthralling exhibition, which contains superb pictures by some of his contemporaries (most of whom he appears to have disregarded or despised), but only one original painting by him—a small Midas at the Source of the Pactolus, lent by the Musée Fesch in Ajaccio.

Only one work of real consequence by Poussin remains in the city that, when he was alive and for a generation or so after his death, contained a large proportion of his finest masterpieces. This is the altarpiece of The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (Vatican Picture Gallery), which he was commissioned to paint for St. Peter’s within four years of his arrival—but which does not seem to have met with much success. What was, on the other hand, one of the most admired and certainly the most influential of all his paintings, The Death of Germanicus (now in Minneapolis), did not leave Italy until 1958, when—through an oversight of scarcely believable stupidity on the part of the authorities—it was legally exported without any attempt being made to retain it in the country.

All these exhibitions have been accompanied by substantial and fully illustrated catalogs, while scholarly articles and monographs, as well as lavish publications aimed at a wider public, have poured from the presses of Europe and America. Meanwhile we still await the appearance in print of the papers presented at several conferences held in Paris, Rome, and London. None of this activity is the result of some sudden awakening to the qualities of an unappreciated artist. Ever since the impressive exhibition held at the Louvre in 1960, which was the product of precisely such a revelation, others of great importance but devoted to specific aspects of his paintings and drawings have been held in Rome, Paris, Rouen, Oxford, Edinburgh, Düsseldorf, Fort Worth, and elsewhere. It might well be felt therefore that there is nothing left to discover, and indeed the principal exhibitions in Paris and in London (where the display at the Royal Academy’s Burlington House is admirably presented) contain very few surprises to anyone who has scanned the catalogs of these earlier shows.

What has been rejected is perhaps more striking than what has been added: particularly a powerfully expressive drawing in red chalk of a man’s head and shoulders, inscribed in a seventeenth-century hand as being a self-portrait made by the artist when convalescing from a serious illness and as having been presented by him to Cardinal Massimi (one of his most appreciative patrons).

This drawing, which is in the British Museum, has been given great prominence in all the literature on Poussin,…

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