France • 1594−1665

Biography and information

Nicolas Poussin (1594, Les Andelys, Normandy - 1665, Rome) was one of the greatest French artists, the founder of the classicism. Among the masters of the 16th century painting, he is considered one of the most significant, and his influence on the further development of art cannot be overestimated.

Parents gave Poussin a good education: there is an evidence that as a child he studied in Rouen with the Jesuits, then Nicolas passed training with Quentin Varin. This, in general, a fairly ordinary painter came to the province to paint the church. The mastery of an artist from the capital made a great impression on the young provincial Poussin, and he began to take lessons from Varin. At the age of 18, Nicolas left for Paris, where for some time he studied with Georges Lallemand, a painter and historian, and also with the master of portraiture Ferdinand van Elle.

A trip to Rome had the greatest influence on Poussin, as well as on his formation as an artist. There he received the necessary knowledge and was inspired by the works of the geniuses of the Renaissance.

Peculiar features of Nicolas Poussin’s art: his works strictly subordinate to the ideas of rationalism, which serves as the basis for the Classicism in painting. Mythological, historical and biblical subjects were of the greatest interest to the painter. Keeping to the canons of ancient painting and Renaissance art, in his paintings Nicolas Poussin tried to avoid all that was superfluous: compositionally, his works are impeccable; every detail is in its place and plays a clearly defined role. Poussin’s stay in Rome left its mark on the way he handled chiaroscuro: the landscapes of Poussin are filled with soft warm light, which you can see and paint on canvas only in Italy.

The palette of Nicolas Poussin is characterized by deep tones, and the arrangement of color groups is thought out to the smallest detail. In addition, it was Poussin who first appreciated the artistic value of using local light and widely used this technique in his work. From that time on, the artist’s techniques have become standard and were borrowed by the French Academy to develop a set of rules and norms characteristic of academism.

The most famous paintings of Poussin are “The Empire of Flora”, “The Death of Germanicus”, “The Inspiration of the Poet”, “The Death of Christ”, “The Holy Family on the Steps”, “Parnassus”. The paintings on mythological or literary subjects are characteristic for the last period of the artist’s work. The famous landscapes of Nicolas Poussin of that period include “Landscape with two nymphs”, “Four seasons”, “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt”“The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus” is also considered his significant work - it was painted for St. Peter's Basilica, the most important Catholic church.

When studying in Paris, Nicolas quickly realized that the only source of inspiration for him was the Louvre, which was not bad for a beginning painter, but this was not enough for him. At that time, Rome was rightly considered the center of the creative world, where painters from different countries sought to get.

Poussin made several attempts to get there, the first and second of which were unsuccessful. Having set off on a journey and having reached Florence, the artist was forced to return to France, and when he was on the road the other time again, he was delayed by work in Lyon. There Poussin created one of his famous paintings, which for a long time was considered to be lost - “The Death of the Virgin Mary”. This most significant work of Nicholas Poussin of that period was commissioned by the archbishop of Paris for the cathedral of Notre Dame.

The third trip was successful: in 1624 the artist left for Rome and spent there as long as 20 years. It was the period when Nicolas Poussin created works on mythological subjects, studied the works of da Vinci and Durer. The sculptures, paintings and drawings of Titian, Carracci, Raphael and Michelangelo greatly influenced him.

In Rome Poussin acquired a useful acquaintance with Cardinal Barberini. His commission to the artist, The Destruction of Jerusalem painting, was the first serious work of the painter in Italy. Unfortunately, the original of this work has not been preserved, and its second version is currently located in the Vienna Museum of the History of Art.

Among other famous paintings of those years, one should mention the “Death of Germanicus,” which is an important work of classicism. Clearly structured composition, rational subjects and soft palette are the main features of the works made by Poussin during his Roman period. They most clearly characterize his work as a whole conveying the thoughts and ideas that the artist wanted to bring to the viewer.

The following period in the biography of Nicolas Poussin was much shorter: after Rome, he returned to France and stayed there for only two years. However, this time was spent with benefit. He arrived in Paris at the request of Sable de Nooy, then superintendent of the king’s buildings, and became the first painter of the court. The work of Nicolas Poussin for the chapel in the palace of Saint-Germain was commissioned at the personal request of King Louis XIII, he later acquired Poussin’s "Manna from Heaven" painting for his personal collection.

In Paris, the master was unusually successful. He had many commissions, though he got a lot of enemies there. At court there were enough artists who were dissatisfied with Poussin and his work, so they desperately intrigued against him, and not without the support of Queen Anne of Austria. This situation did not suit Nicolas: in 1642 he left France with a promise to return, but the death of Cardinal Richelieu, and then the King, released him from all his obligations.

Poussin went to Rome, where he felt much more comfortable, because there he was under the auspices of influential people: Cardinal Barbarini and patron Dal Pozzo. Being inspired by his favourite views and masterpieces of the geniuses of the past, Nicolas worked peacefully in a familiar surrounding,. He no longer took on grandiose commissions and prefered to paint medium-sized paintings.

Among the famous works of Nicolas Poussin of the period, landscapes and works on Biblical and mythological subjects prevailed: "Landscape with Diogenes", "Ecstasy of St. Paul", the "Seven Sacraments" and the "Seasons" series were painted. This time was the most productive in the artist’s life when his skills reached the highest point. His subjects are ideal both from an artistic point of view, and in relation to their human qualities like selflessness, patriotism, and sacrifice. Nicolas Poussin’s paintings are marked with harmony and perfect accuracy of the drawing. The magnificent compositions, clarity in separating the planes with the help of color and forms contributed to the creation of the images of an ideal world on canvas in which everything subordinates to logic and reason.

In 1664, the artist suffered great grief when his wife died. The same date can be found on his last unfinished work "Apollo and Daphne", which was subsequently acquired by the Louvre. The brilliant painter died a year after the death of his wife, in September 1665.

Died brilliant painter, a year after his wife's death, in September, 1665.