The Art of Nicolas Poussin

The Landscapes

Page 4 (95-122)

Paintings: (1-31) . (32-61) . (62-94) . (95-122) . (123-154) . (155-186) . (187-216) . (217-248). .(249-280) (281-310). Drawings: (1-40) . (41-80) . (81-120) . (121-160)

Ideal Landscape
Imaginary Llandscape

Landscape During a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe

This is Poussin’s largest landscape, painted for the Roman palace of Cassiano del Pozzo, the artist’s most important patron in Rome. Recent research has revealed that the stormy landscape and the strictly symmetrical composition were the result of many changes and an almost total repainting of the picture. The changes include the oval lake in the center that divides the surface of the canvas, the dark gray sky overshadowed by the storm, the dramatic lighting, as well as the subject of the painting itself. It is the tragic story (taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses) of two lovers from Babylon who were not meant to be together. In an attempt to meet secretly outside the gates of the city, they lose their lives through a tragic misunderstanding. Few paintings reveal Poussin’s efforts to solve the problems of form and content as clearly as this landscape does.
Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake
Oil on canvas
118.2 x 197.8 cm
National Gallery, London, England.

The subject does not appear to have a literary source. The setting may derive from a notorious snake-infested area near Fondi, south-east of Rome.

Poussin creates a sort of study of fear fanning out from the corpse in the foreground. The landscape has been carefully constructed to lead the viewer through the stages of this drama with figures placed on alternately light and dark receding strips of ground. The figures' theatrical poses communicate a sense of movement and drama through being set on a diagonal.

The drama also resides in who can see whom within the picture. The running man sees the dead man and the snake; the woman sees only the running man; the fishermen do not even see her.

The picture was probably painted in 1648 for Pointel, a Parisian merchant, who owned a number of Poussin's works.

Poussin takes elements of classical landscapes from Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. Trees are used to frame the action. Diagonal lines create spatial recession in the centre, back to the horizon.
Landscape with a Man scooping Water from a Stream
about 1637
Landscape with a Woman Washing her Feet (Vertumnus and Pomona)
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Landscape with Arcadian Shepherds.
Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun,
1658 (others place it in 1664)
Oil on canvas;
46 7/8 x 72 in. (119.1 x 182.9 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1924 (24.45.1)

For his depiction of the gigantic hunter, Poussin drew on the Greek writer Lucian (De domo 27–29): "Orion, who is blind, is carrying Cedalion, and the latter, riding on his back, is showing him the way to the sunlight. The rising sun is healing [his] blindness." Poussin also studied a 16th-century commentary on the tale by Natalis Comes which affords a meteorological interpretation. Accordingly he added Diana, standing upon the clouds that wreathe Orion's face, symbol of the power of the moon to gather the earth's vapors and turn them into rain. Toward the end of his life, Poussin scrutinized pebbles, moss, flowers and plants, and his landscapes—such as this one, painted for Michel Passart in 1658—evoke the earth's early history in showing nature abundant and uncultivated.
Landscape with Diogen.
Landscape with Orpheus and Euridice
Landscape with Polyphemus
Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia

This picture marks the beginning of Poussin's final period, that in which poetry rises to an all-embracing feeling for the world - still, however, interpreted through a mythological guise.

The subject was borrowed from "Metamorphoses" by Ovid. A terrible one-eyed giant Polyphemus anamoured of nymph Galathea is singing of his love on a pipe.
Landscape with St Augustine
Landscape with St. James in Patmos.
Oil on canvas.
The Art Institute of Chicago,
Chicago, IL, USA.
Landscape with St. Jerome.
Oil on canvas.
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
Landscape with St. Matthew and The Angel.
Oil on canvas.
Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, Germany

In the Campanian landscape Matthew the Evangelist is sitting on a stone amongst the ruins of ancient buildings, harkening to an angel who stands before him. A painting of St John on Patmos, of similar design and equal size, in the Art Institute of Chicago was originally a companion-piece to the one in Berlin; they probably formed part of an unfinished series of landscapes with the four Evangelists. The two paintings appear to have parted company at an early stage. Unforeseen circumstances seem to have prevented the completion of the series. Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who presumably commissioned Poussin to paint the pictures (this work is mentioned in an inventory of the Palazzo Barberini of 1692), was forced to flee Rome in 1645, following the death of his uncle, Pope Urban VIII; this would have been reason enough for the painter to leave the series unfinished, in which case the St Matthew landscape must have been the only one the Cardinal actually received, and the second picture sold to another buyer. This would suggest that both pictures were painted before or around 1645, this date being borne out by the development of Poussin's style, for he had just returned to Italy after a luckless interlude as Court painter in Paris.

In the Berlin painting Poussin has introduced realistic impressions of nature, deriving ostensibly from the Tiber valley at Aqua Acetosa not far from Rome. But there is no question of an exact reproduction of the topographical features, such as the North European artists in Italy so often tried to achieve. As in all Poussin's works, the composition here is essentially imaginative: the double bend of the river conveys the full depth of the valley, while the soaring tower of a distant ruin is the dominant vertical feature of the landscape, lending emphasis to the quiet dialogue between Evangelist and angel; his own features shaded, Matthew looks up at the divine messenger who stands bathed in a bright light. The remains of the building material, stones cut in cubic and cylindrical forms, not only provide depth and perspective but also lend a note of gravity to this heroic landscape, and are so placed as to achieve the maximum artistic effect.

At the end of the eighteenth century this painting formed part of a legacy to the Colonna di Sciarra family, and its presence in their palazzo was confirmed in 1820. In 1873 it was acquired for the Berlin Gallery.
Landscape with Travellers Resting
on canvas
63 x 77.8 cm.

For a larger but darker version of this painting
click here

This picture, like another of Poussin's landscapes in the Collection 'Landscape with a Man scooping Water from a Stream', was probably executed for Cassiano dal Pozzo, a friend and patron of Poussin, or for Cassiano's younger brother, Carlo Antonio. Although they look well as a pair, and have always been together in the same collections, they were probably not made as pendants (to be hung together) and were possibly executed a year or two apart.

Campagna is Italian for countryside and refers to the district around Rome. In contrast to much of Poussin's work, the pictures do not seem to be taken from any literary or religious sources. They are lucidly composed studies based on the countryside around Rome, where Poussin is known to have drawn landscape studies.
The Funeral of Phocion
Oil on canvas,
114 x 175 cm
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (on loan)
Louvre, Paris

From 1648 come the two Phocion landscapes, the Funeral of Phocion (Earl of Plymouth loan to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff) and the Gathering of the Ashes of Phocion, now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Painted as a pair, both pictures are constructed exactly like a stage set. Perhaps it was because this way of creating a landscape was very theoretical that such compositions were imitated so widely; they were seen as the proper way to paint landscape - by construction rather than by observation. The scenes are of great tragedy: in one the good General Phocion has been wrongly accused by the citizens of Athens and sentenced to death, and in the other his grieving widow collects his ashes. The deep melancholy of these two pictures again indicates Poussin's determination to make the mind exercise thought rather than imagination.
Landscape with a Man washing his Feet at a Fountainhe
about 1648
oil on canvas
74 x 100.3 cm

The status of this picture has been questioned in the past, but it is now generally accepted as original. It has been suggested that the picture shows the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly as described by the ancient author Aelian in the 'Varia Historia'.

Probably painted in the late 1640s for Jean Pointel (died 1660), a Paris merchant who was one of Poussin's principal patrons. The painting was admired by John Constable who wrote that it was 'the most affecting picture I almost ever stood before'.

Landscape in a Roman Camp
Lanscape with a Storm
Landscape with Hercules and Cacus.
Oil on canvas.
The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia
Landscape With Two Nymphs
Landscape With Time and Truth
Landscape With Travellers
The Ashes of Phocion Collected by his Widow
Oil on canvas
Merseyside County Art Galleries, Liverpo
Name and date unknown by me for now
Landscape with a Man Pursued by a Snake
Oil on canvas
65 x 76 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal
Landscape with a Calm
1650 - 1651
Oil on canvas
52 3/4 x 39 in.

In the late 1640s and early 1650s, at the height of his artistic maturity, Nicolas Poussin turned from historical narrative to landscape painting. Landscape with a Calm does not illustrate a story but rather evokes a mood. The ordered composition and clear, golden light contribute to A Calm's utter tranquility, while glowing, gem-like colors and fluid paint strokes enliven this scene of benevolent nature. Poussin's sketching campaigns in the Roman countryside with his friend and fellow landscape painter Claude Lorrain account, in part, for its fresh observation of cloud-scattered sky and grazing goats.

Poussin painted a pendant to this painting,
Landscape with a Storm, now in a museum in Rouen. Together their contrasting weather effects embody nature's changing and unpredictable relationship with man. Poussin painted these works for the Parisian merchant Jean Pointel, a friend a great collector of his landscape paintings.

Paintings: (1-30) . (31-60) . (61-90) . (91-120) . (121-150) . (151-180) . (181-210) . (211-248). (249-280) . Drawings: (1-40) . (41-80) . (81-120) . (121-160)