30 Oct 2013 5:00pm - 6:30pm Mill Lane Lecture Room 9


This event is free and open to all.

Pierre Rosenberg, former Director of the Louvre, will give a series of three public lectures on Poussin in England and participate in a concluding symposium on Thursday 31 October.


I thought about entitling my third lecture “Poussin, English Painter”, as he was, and still is, loved and admired so much in the United Kingdom. Soon after his death in 1665, Poussin's works were collected in abundance. I will mention Jean Mariette (1694-1774), one of the greatest collector of drawings of his time who himself owned a painting by Poussin representing La Nourriture de Jupiter. This painting is is today at the National Gallery in London. In the middle of the 18th century, he wrote: “Les tableaux de Poussin sont très rares en France, les anglais nous en ayant dépouillé” (Poussin's paintings are very rare in France, the English stripped them from us). Even today, England owns as many Poussins as France does. In France, most of them belong to the Louvre as well as to some Parisian and provincial museums, Chantilly among them. None belong to private collections. In England, the National Gallery in London in particular, but also Dulwich and the Wallace Collection retain works by Poussin, and a few regional museum as well, among them the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. What differs in the case of France is the number of important paintings which remains in private hands. In 1981, Anthony Blunt counted 47 Poussins in the United Kingdom (including 3 at the Dublin Museum). I have not counted the number of Poussins in France but should be able to put forward an exact number shortly when I will finalise my catalogue raisonné of Poussin’s work. The first “Poussin” to enter England in 1639 was in fact not by Poussin. We have to mention a sale which took place in the Banqueting House in 1684, where 4 or 5 Poussins were present. During the period up to 1744, when the military hostility between the two countries started again, Poussin's paintings flooded England. Painted in Italy, where Poussin lived for most of his career, most of the works had travelled through France before being acquired by British collectors. This is the case for Tancrède et Herminie, today in Birmingham, bought in Paris in 1717 by Sir James Thorhill during his trip to France. I will not mention here the two series of Les Sacrements, which both entered England at the end of the 18th century. Out of the ten catalogue raisonnés of Poussin’s paintings, four were written by British art historians (Graham, Smith, Blunt, Wright) – the oldest one and the least famous was written by a woman – and for a long time, the main specialists of Poussin were English. I will evoke some of the main personalities, mainly art historians from the past, with the exception of Humphrey Wine, writers of the Catalogue des Tableaux Français du 17e Siècle at the National Gallery: Sir Anthony Blunt and Sir Denis Mahon, Ellis K. Waterhouse but also Joshua Reynolds; William Hazlitt and Richardson.The interesting question concerns the reason(s) for this persistent love of Poussin by the English. I have no answers, but will suggest some hypotheses. To conclude, I will quote William Hazlitt (1821): “At his touch, words start up into images, thoughts become things”.

Other events in this series:

About the Professorship

The Humanitas Chair in the History of Art has been made possible by the generous support of J E Safra.

The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in the History of Art explores a wide range of approaches to the history of art, from the economic, social and philosophical to the cultural and aesthetic.

Previous Humanitas Visiting Professor in History of Art

2012-13: Philippe de Montebello (Director Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball Professor, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University)

Standing Committee

Jean Michel Massing (History of Art)
Frank Salmon (History of Art)
Deborah Howard (Architecture)
Alyce Mahon (History of Art)

Hosting College

Clare College

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