Milo Naeve Reviews
Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Vision
Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Vision, editors Pierrre Rosenberg and Keith Christiansen
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008
432 pages (232 color illustration, 10 black and white illustrations)
ISBN 978-1-58839-242-8 (hard cover) (Metropolitan Museum of Art) $65.00
ISBN 978-1-58839-243-5 (soft cover) (Metropolitan Museum of Art) $45.00
ISBN 978-0-300-13668-5 (Yale University Press, hard cover only) $65.00
Among the forceful, yet subtle, influences on American landscape painting is that of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). The French artist mainly lived in Rome and eventually gained international patronage. His influence can be traced in the careers of such Americans as Thomas Cole and George Inness. But his greatest impact was indirectly through such artists as John Constable and J.M.W. Turner in England or Paul Cezanne in France.
Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions is the catalogue for an exhibition of the same title at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City from February 12 to May 11, 2008, and the Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilboa Spain, from October 8, 2007 tp January 13, 2008. the exhibition is the first on the subject. It included drawings with paintings.
The principal art historian in the project was Pierre Rosenberg, Honorary President-Director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris and a member of the Académie Française. He selected the works of art, wrote the catalogue entries for them, and was one of the catalogue editors. The other was Keith Christiansen, Jane Wrightsman Curator of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The clearly stated essays with secure documentation undoubtedly are a result of these editors.
Poussin intermittently painted landscapes as the subject of a picture over his career; he is better known for placing narrative subjects in idyllic settings. The meaning of many was lost and scenes long have been debated but were irrelevant for most artists by the 18th and 19th Centuries. They concentrated on the majestic pastoral backgrounds.
The method in creating them never has been duplicated with the same sensitivity. Poussin created an illusion of space by firmly placed buildings in the foreground or middleground of buildings, hills, or trees before empty spaces. He continued this method by carefully defined clouds near the observer and less distinct ones beyond them.
The foreground and middleground objects create a rhythm of horizontals or verticals and meet at right angles. These elements contrast with broad curves unifying the scene through a river, lake shore, or road in the middleground. The results of all these devices is an austere composition which gives an impression of stability and permanence.
Poussin's approach to the compositions is considered by several scholars:
Anna Ottani Cavina: Poussin's interpretation of the Roman countryside as an idyllic setting
Alain Mérot:: Poussin's methods in composition, perspective, and color for creating space in his early landscapes
Claire Pace: Poussin's theme in the early pictures of retreat from the city to the countryside for tranquility
René Démoris: Poussin's pictures with violent storms
William Sauerlander: Interpretations of Poussin's landscapes
Rosenberg's catalogue essays are informative about style, condition, and provenance. He fairly assesses different opinions about an attribution or identification of a subject.
Readers are served in other ways. The book includes an excellent bibliography, list of exhibitions for Poussin, an index of works by him, and a useful general index. Illustration color is notable.
Poussin emerges through the book as a distinguished painter of landscapes. The study is a firm foundation for investigating Pouissin's influence on Western art in general and American art in particular.