Nicolas Poussin

Les Andelys 1594 - Rome 1665


My interpretation of the caption leads me to believe that the Portrait of an Artist is a painting of an amateur of Poussin: Paul Freart de Chantelou.


Considered to be the most significant French painter of the 17th century.
Leading example of 17th Century French Classicism.

Early training in Normandy. Then in Paris with masters including Elle and Lallemand.
Went to Rome in 1624 and spent the rest of his life there.

Mostly he painted history subjects from antiquity (The Rape of the Sabines), mythology (Echo and Narcissus), themes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the Old Testament for Italian and French connoisseurs. "Inspired by the light and gilded color of Titian and Veronese."1 (The Inspiration of the Poet) When painting with creative freedom, he used unusual subjects (The Plague of Ashdod) and "deliberately profound or dramatic illustrations of  moral and philosophical ideas"1 (The Arcadian Shepards)

A stay in Paris from 1640 to 1642 did not fulfill the role of court painter that Louis XIII wished. He did reestablish his relationships with French collectors for whom he worked almost exclusively after 1642.


The end of his career found growing respect from official art circles. Poussin developed his art "towards a gradually more refined distillation, increasingly solemn and morally reflective, and pervaded with stoic principle."1 (Portrait of the Artist and Orpheus and Eurydice) However he was not imitated and thus did not render a lasting influence on painting. The Baroque trends of Bernini, Borromini, and Pietro da Cortona were much more influential. Within France though the Academy of Painting and Sculpture (Academie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture) founded in 1648, established its doctrine on the ideas of Poussin and Raphel. But by the end of the century their use of color was held inferior to that of Rubens and the Venetians. While critics continued to praise him in the first half of the 18th century, his influence is not seen, namely among artists such as Fragnard and Boucher.

In the 19th Century his genius was proclaimed by David and then Ingres (1780-1867). He retained great respect within Academic Art and in the Neo-Classical movement early in the century. Admired by Delacroix (along with Rubens), he was however neglected by most of the Romantics. Towards the end of the century his rationalism, harmony, clarity and moderation influenced Cezanne, Degas, and in turn, during the 20th century, cubist and abstract artists. Cezanne imagined "Poussin reconstructed on nature."

THE ARCADIAN SHEPARDS (Les Bergers d'Aracdie, dit aussi Et in Arcadia ego)

Painted circa 1638-1640, it is now in the Musee d'Louvre, Paris.

Poussin painted the same theme in circa 1628-1630. That "more poetic and spontaneous" version with the same title
is currently at Chatsworth. In that painting everything is at a diagonal and "the brush stroke is spirited, the light dramatic, the color warm and Venetian."1 In the the new version there is no movement, the background is "serene," the coloring "has been tempered to coolness," the tomb is centered among figures framed in a pyramid, and the woman in particular, in antique profile, appears as a sculpture.

The tomb in the Louvre version has the inscription, 'Et in arcadia ego.' This was originally read as, 'I, too, lived in
Arcadia.' But is now understood as, 'Even in Arcadia, I, Death exists.' Arcadia is a "fictive ancient realm of perfect joy
materializing a dream of ineffable happiness." While one man rereads the inscription and another comments on it, the other two figures contemplate, somewhat concerned.

This attitude was misunderstood by the critics and artists who reused the subject during the 18th century, admiring but contradicting. "The highly philosophical interpretation that Poussin gave to this theme... reveals two different approaches to Antiquity by the artists corresponding to two distinct phases of his spiritual growth. This composition particuarily brings out the evolution in Poussin's style towards a more and more "classical" art."1