Throughout his life Poussin stood apart from the popular tendency toward the decorative in French art of his time. In Poussin's works a survival of the impulses of the Renaissance is coupled with conscious reference to the art of classical antiquity as the standard of excellence. His goal was clarity of expression achieved by disegno or ‘nobility of design’ in preference to colore or color. Perhaps his concern with disegno can best be seen in the line engraved copies of his works; among the many who reproduced his paintings, some of the most successful are Audran, Claudine Stella, Picart and Pesne.
Themes of tragedy and death are prevalent in Poussin's work. Et in Arcadia ego, a subject he painted twice (second version is seen at right), exemplifies his cerebral approach. In this composition, idealized shepherds examine a tomb inscribed with the title phrase, which is usually interpreted as a memento mori: "Even in Arcadia I exist", as if spoken by personified Death. Poussin intended his figures to "display the most distilled and most typical attitude and emotion for the role they were playing", but he was concerned with emotion "in a generalized and not specific way ... Thus in both compositions of Et in Arcadia Ego (Chatsworth and Louvre) the theme is the realization of death in life. The specific models hardly matter. We are not intended to have sympathy with them and instead we are forced by the artist to think on the theme."
Poussin is an important figure in the development of landscape painting. In his early paintings the landscape usually forms a graceful background for a group of figures; later he progressed to the painting of landscape for its own sake, although the figure is never entirely absent. Examples are Landscape with St. John on Patmos (1640), (Art Institute of Chicago) and Landscape with a Roman Road (1648), (Dulwich Picture Gallery).
The finest collection of Poussin's paintings is at the Louvre in Paris. Other significant collections are in the National Gallery in London; the National Gallery of Scotland; the Dulwich Picture Gallery; the Musée Condé, Chantilly; the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; and the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Poussin was a prolific artist. Among his many works are:
- Some of the paintings by Poussin at the Louvre, Paris:
- The Inspiration of the Poet (1629–1630)
- The Plague at Ashdod (1630)
- Les Bergers d’Arcadie (late 1630s)
- The Judgement of Solomon (1649)
- The Blind Men of Jericho (1650)
- Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice (c.1650)
- The Adulteress (1653)
- The Four Seasons (series) (1660–1664)
- A few of Poussin’s other paintings:
- Adoration of the Golden Calf (National Gallery, London)
- The Crossing of the Red Sea (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)
- Nymphs and a Satyr (1627) Cleveland Museum of Art
- The Return of the Holy Family to Nazareth (1627) Cleveland Museum of Art
- Holy Family on the Steps (1648) Cleveland Museum of Art
- Cacus (St. Petersburg)
- The Testament of Eudamidas (Copenhagen)
- Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus (1634)
- Tancred and Erminia, second version (Barber Institute, Birmingham)
- The Rape of the Sabine Women (1636)
- The Destruction of Jerusalem (1637)
- Hebrews Gathering Manna (1639)
- A Dance to the Music of Time (1639–40), (Wallace Collection, London)
- The Continence of Scipio (1640), Pushkin Museum, Moscow
- Ecstasy of Saint Paul (1643), (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida)
- Moses Rescued from the Waters (1647)
- Eliezer and Rebecca (1648)
- The Funeral of Phocion (1648) (National Museum Cardiff)
- Landscape with Polyphemus (1649)
- Seven Sacraments (two separate series, see main article for details as to locations)
- The Flight into Egypt (1657, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon)
Read more about this topic: Nicolas Poussin
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“Again we mistook a little rocky islet seen through the drisk, with some taller bare trunks or stumps on it, for the steamer with its smoke-pipes, but as it had not changed its position after half an hour, we were undeceived. So much do the works of man resemble the works of nature. A moose might mistake a steamer for a floating isle, and not be scared till he heard its puffing or its whistle.”
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—Bible: New Testament, Galatians 2:15-16.
“Now they express
All thats content to wear a worn-out coat,
All actions done in patient hopelessness,
All that ignores the silences of death,
Thinking no further than the hand can hold,
All that grows old,
Yet works on uselessly with shortened breath.”
—Philip Larkin (19221986)