The Artist Nicolas Poussin

Born in the Normandy region of France in 1594, the highly influential painter Nicolas Poussin is best known for paintings in the classical style. Despite the increasingly popular Baroque style of painting, Poussin remained faithful to the classical style as evidenced by the subject matter of his work, but also by his art’s order of line, clarity, and logic. He influenced later painters like Jacques-Louis David and Paul Cezanne.

The history of Poussin’s early life is somewhat obscure. He appears to have learned some Latin as a youth and his sketches attracted the notice of the painter Quentin Varin who taught Poussin until he turned eighteen and left for Paris. There, Poussin studied under the Flemish painters Ferdinand Elle and Georges Lallemand who are best remembered now as Poussin’s teachers, though they are considered to be minor master painters. During Poussin’s early career, he witnessed the shift from artistic apprenticeships to art instruction at academic schools. Poussin was detained in Lyon en route to Rome, but his stay resulted in a friendship with Giambattista Marino, Marie de Medici’s Court Poet. Marino commission Poussin for some illustrations. This work paved Poussin’s way to Rome where he won the patronage of Cardinal Francesco Barberini.

Poussin spent most of his subsequent life in Rome, but returned to Paris for a stint to serve as First Painter to the King. In 1630 Poussin married Anna Maria Dughet. The couple remained childless, but Poussin adopted one of his wife’s brothers who took the artist’s surname for his own. Poussin became familiar with many well-known artists also working in Rome like Jacques Stella and Andrea Sacchi. Poussin became part of a group known for its opposition to the Baroque style. Poussin’s style remained influential even into the twentieth-century and critics often compare some Cubist works of Picasso to Poussin’s work.

Poussin was a prolific artist who continued to demonstrate the Renaissance aesthetic in his work. He strove to create noble works that were expressively clear. Many of his paintings depict scenes of death and tragedy. Poussin also notably contributed to the development of landscape painting. According to art historians, the best collection of Poussin’s works resides at the Louvre which began to seriously collect the artist’s works in the decades after his death in 1665. The Louvre owns the famed Four Seasons Series (1660-1664), The Plague of Ashdod (1630), and The Adultress (1653). Other paintings by the classical master include Rape of the Sabine Women (1637-1338), Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (1629), The Continence of Scipio (1640), Landscape with Polyphemus (1649), and Moses Rescued from the Waters (1647).