NICOLAS POUSSIN 1594 -
de La Tour
xxxxxThe French artist Nicolas Poussin, though appointed court painter to Louis XIII in 1640, spent much of his life in Rome. Not surprisingly his works -
xxxxxAlthough one time court painter to Louis XIII, (1640-
xxxxxHe was born near Les Andelys in Normandy and decided to become a painter when the artist Quentin Varin visited his village in 1611. He studied for a short while in Rouen and then took himself off to Paris. It was here that he studied the sculpture and paintings of the great masters of the Italian Renaissance and developed a passionate interest in classical antiquity. He decided that his destiny lay in Italy. After working for a short time on the decorations being carried out in the Luxembourg Palace, he managed to raise the fare. In 1624 he was able to leave France and settle in Rome. Apart from a brief visit to Paris in the 1640s, he spent the rest of his life in the Eternal City, continually inspired by its ancient past.
xxxxxAt first he struggled to make ends meet, let alone make a name for himself. He worked for a while with the baroque painter Domenichino, but he also spent much time in studying Graeco-
xxxxxPoussin's short stay in Paris, starting in 1640, was not a happy one. He was invited to return to France by Cardinal Richelieu who, being truly delighted with his scenes of drunken revelry, now wanted him to supervise the decorating of the Long Gallery in the Louvre. He received a very warm welcome and was accorded the title "First Painter", but the honeymoon was short lived. He disliked the cold climate and he could not cope with the rivalry and critical atmosphere within the capital's artistic community -
xxxxxOn his return to Rome, his work showed a more restrained style -
xxxxxFor the last ten years or so of his life he suffered ill health. He produced two particularly fine works during this period -
xxxxxHis influence in Italy was not extensive, the taste here being for the bold art of Roman baroque, but in France his style had a profound and lasting effect. In fact, the French Academy, under the directorship of Charles Le Brun -
xxxxxPoussin’s interest in landscape was shared by his compatriot Claude Lorrain (1600-
xxxxxPoussin's interest in landscape as a subject in its own right was more than echoed by his compatriot Claude Lorrain (1600-
xxxxxHe was born in the village of Chamagne in the duchy of Lorraine -
xxxxxHis paintings, conveniently linked with some mythological or historical event, are generally dream-
xxxxxBut important though his contribution was to the general development of landscape painting, Claude Lorrain is remarkable above all for his masterly treatment of light. No previous artist had captured with such perfection the beauty and variety of natural light, or suffused their scenes with such a warm, golden glow. A distinctive feature of his early works was the brilliant way in which he rendered the morning or evening sunlight, as seen in his Seaport with Setting Sun of 1639 (illustrated above). Indeed, in his earlier work, his Harbour Scene of 1634, he was probably the first Western artist to use the sun as a direct source of illumination. Later, as in his The Embarkation of Saint Ursula (illustrated below), he came to bathe the whole scene in a soft, limpid light.
xxxxxIn 1635, fearing that his paintings might be open to forgery, he began his Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth), a unique pictorial record of his compositions. This proved of immense value in assessing the artist's stylistic development, dating his works and identifying his patrons. The book, made up of 195 carefully drawn copies of his paintings, is housed in the British Museum, London. When, at a later date, engravings were made of these drawings, they had a profound influence on landscape artists of the 19th century. Illustrated here is the Embarkation of Saint Ursula together with its record.
xxxxxClaude Lorrain died in Rome in November 1682, and was buried in the Church of the Saints Trinita dei Monti. About 250 of his paintings survived out of a total of 300, and he left more than a thousand drawings and 44 etchings. His art influenced many European landscape painters, notably the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp, the Welsh artist Richard Wilson, the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner, and the French impressionists.
xxxxxIncidentally, The Enchanted Castle was the work which inspired the English poet John Keats by conjuring up (as it does) the existence of a mystical, legendary land.
xxxxxThe religious and domestic scenes of the French artist Georges de La Tour (1593-
xxxxxAnother French artist of this time was Georges de La Tour (1593-
xxxxxHis work is reminiscent of Caravaggio -
xxxxxBut not all his works were centred on religious themes. His genre scenes, mostly painted early on in his career, included The Brawl, The Hurdy-
xxxxxHe was patronized, amongst others, by the Duke of Lorraine and Cardinal Richelieu, and we are told that the French king, Louis XIII, having received one of his paintings as a gift, was so delighted with it that he had all other paintings removed from his apartments! But despite the value placed on his work during his lifetime, his fame was transitory. For many years his work received little notice, and it was not, in fact, until the beginning of the 20th century that his paintings were "rediscovered" and reassessed. Today, La Tour ranks among the major artists of Western Europe.