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Indepth Arts News:

"Poussin, Claude, and Their World: Seventeenth-Century French Drawings from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris"
2002-09-18 until 2002-12-01
Frick Collection
New York, NY, USA

Featuring seventy-one drawings, Poussin, Claude, and Their World: Seventeenth-Century French Drawings from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, includes outstanding masterpieces by Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, as well as lesser-known artists such as Sébastian Bourdon, Simon Vouet, Eustache Le Sueur, Charles Le Brun, and Noël Coypel. With examples by over thirty artists selected by Emmanuelle Brugerolles, Curator of Drawings at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, and Colin B. Bailey, Chief Curator, The Frick Collection, these works provide an in-depth survey of French drawings from the seventeenth century carefully chosen from a collection that is singularly rich in this field.

The École des Beaux-Arts has seldom placed such a large number of sheets on loan at any given time, and this exhibition will include many drawings that have never been on view in the United States. Furthermore, several new acquisitions are to be included, works that the École des Beaux-Arts has not yet shown even to the French public. A special edition of the catalogue has been translated for the Frick venue of this tour and represents a new source in English on the holdings of this important French institution. The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Robert Lehman Foundation and through the support of the Fellows of The Frick Collection.


The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was founded by Cardinal Mazarin and Louis XIV in 1648. Its school survived the French Revolution to join that of the Academy of Architecture, and during the early nineteenth century, the two became the École des Beaux-Arts. The institution inherited a remarkable collection from the former Royal Academies, and today its holdings in the area of Master Drawings comprise a remarkable resource of some 15,000 works. French, Italian, and Northern Schools are well represented among the sheets from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

The exhibition at the Frick presents an important opportunity to study the flourishing of the French School in the seventeenth century, a noted area of strength in the collection of the École des Beaux-Arts. Of particular focus will be the years between 1620 and 1680, the period to which French Classicism traces its origin. At the center of this development were Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Claude Lorrain (c. 1604/05–1682), whose work served as models for so many other artists and set the standard for the genres of history and landscape painting, respectively. Drawings by both masters comprise approximately one-third of the exhibition. A sense of context is offered by the work of more than thirty other artists who preceded and followed Poussin and Claude. The exhibition presents a wide variety of genres, among them allegory, religion, portraiture, and landscape, while including preparatory studies for paintings, painted décors, tapestries, decorative ornaments, and engravings.

Nicolas Poussin spent most of his active years in Italy, absorbing the riches of classical art and architecture, while very much developing his own idiom. Indeed, Poussin’s approach to history painting – wherein the challenge rests in depicting multiple-figure compositions in an exciting and legible fashion – was so striking and successful that he set the standard against which other artists’ works in this genre have been judged. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the drawing Salome Receiving the Head of Saint John the Baptist, dated after Poussin returned to Rome from a stay in Paris. His graphic style altered radically at this point: whereas he previously drew figures with a lively and spontaneous precision, after 1642 he assumed a more expressive, pictorial mode, as exemplified in this sheet. Here, Poussin’s bold use of a brown wash creates sculptural quality to this heroic drawing that is quite different from the linear sensibility of the monumental paintings for which he is best known. Among the other heroic-themed works featured is a preparatory study for The Judgment of Solomon. Poussin considered the final version of this composition (now at the Louvre) to be his best painting, and very quickly it became one of the most admired examples of the genre. The exhibition offers an opportunity to examine Poussin’s graphic work in genres with which he is less associated. Included are rare landscape drawings, such as A Fortified Castle, which reveals his ability to capture the effects of light and shadow convincingly – but with great economy. The selection also includes a fairly rare example of Poussin’s practice of directly sketching from antique models, Studies of Roman Soldiers, after Bas-reliefs on Trajan’s Column.

Claude Gellée, known as Claude Lorrain after the province of his birth, was also active in Italy as a painter and draftsman, devoting himself particularly to the study of nature. Viewed as the quintessential landscape painter of the period, he captured the beauty of the Roman countryside, referred to as the Campagna, and elevated it in a way that suggests the timelessness of the ancient world. He made countless open-air studies of natural elements as well as medieval and Roman monuments in an effort to learn how to depict every possible variation of the effects of light, from dawn until dusk. These studies, which were particularly associated with his early years, served as learning exercises and provided records for future reference. Included in the exhibition are independent works of this type, among them The Pyramid of Caius Cestius and Study of Trees, both dating to the 1630s. Claude also created a vast number of preparatory studies directly associated with finished paintings. Among those on view at the Frick is The Disembarkation of Aeneas and His Companions in Latium, of 1640-50. This work reveals a shift away from his most typical pastoral subject matter in favor of a narrative scene that draws on Virgil’s Aeneid.

The French School, however, did not begin with Poussin and Claude but may be traced back to the 1620s to such masters as Simon Vouet (1590-1649). He, too, spent many active years in Italy, absorbing influences that he would later introduce to France when called back by Louis XIII. His work represents a parallel oeuvre, distinct from that of Poussin. He held the title Premier Peintre du Roi and is best known for portraiture and designs for decorative elements in the residences of the French aristocracy. Among the five works by Vouet on view in the exhibition is a drawing believed to be a self-portrait of the artist in his twenties. Also featured is a preparatory sheet for a female figure in the tapestry The Sleeping of Odysseus Carried Ashore in Ithaca. The painter Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655) was under his tutelage and is represented by several drawings for decorative paintings, among them the depiction of a dancing muse, designed for an alcove in the Hôtel Lambert in Paris. Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), who worked briefly for Vouet – and traveled with Poussin to Italy – is better known for carrying out grand interior decorations for private houses in Paris and Royal residences. He served not only as the painter and designer but as a project director. Prior to his work at Versailles, which began in the 1660s, he supervised the decoration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, built for Nicholas Fouquet, Finance Minister under Louis XIV. Winged Female Figure with Raised Arms, the drawing of a sculpture for this magnificent house, is one of several sheets by the master to be included in the exhibition.

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