Poussin, Nicholas

, an eminent French painter, was born at Andely, a little town in Normandy, in 1594. His family, however, were originally of Soissons in which city there were some of his relations officers in the Presidial court. John Poussin, his father, was of noble extraction, but born to a very small estate. His son, seeing the narrowness of his circumstances, determined to support himself as soon as possible, and chose painting for his profession, having naturally a strong inclination to that art. At eighteen, he went to Paris, to learn the rudiments of it. A Poictevin lord, who had taken a liking to him, placed | him with Ferdinand, a portrait-painter, whom Poussin left in three months to place himself with Lalleraant, with whom he staid but a month he saw he should never learn any thing from such masters, and he resolved not to lose his time with them; believing he should profit more by studying the works of great masters, than by the discipline of ordinary painters. He worked a while in distemper, and performed it with extraordinary facility. The Italian poet Marino being at that time in Paris, and perceiving Poussin’s genius to be superior to the small performances on which he was employed, persuaded him to go with him into Italy Poussin had before made two vain attempts to undertake that journey, yet by some means or other was hindered from accepting this opportunity. He promised, however, to follow in a short time; which he did, though not till he had painted several other pictures in Paris, among which was the Death of the Virgin, for the church of Ndtre-Dame. Having finished his business, he set out for Rome in his thirtieth year.

He there met with his friend, the cavalier Marino, who rejoiced to see him and that he might be as serviceable as he could, recommended him to cardinal Barberini, who desired to be acquainted with him. Yet by some means or other, he did not emerge, and could scarcely maintain, himself. He was forced to give away his works for sums that would hardly pay for his colours. His courage, however, did not fail he prosecuted his studies assiduously, resolving, at all events, to make himself master of his profession. He had little money to spend, and therefore the more leisure to retire by himself, and design the beautiful objects in Rome, as well antiquities as the works of the famous Roman painters. It is said, that he at first copied some of Titian’s pieces, with whose colouring, and the touches of whose landscapes, he was infinitely pleased. It is observable, indeed, that his first pieces are painted in a better style of colouring than his last. But he soon shewed, by his performances, that, generally speaking, he did not much value the part of colouring; or thought he knew enough of it, to make his pictures as perfect as he intended. He had studied the beauties of the antique, the elegance, the grand gusto, the correctness, the variety of proportions, the adjustments, the order of the draperies, the nobleness, the fine air and boldness of the heads the manners, customs of times and places, and every thing that | is beautiful in the remains of ancient sculpture, to such a degree, that one can never enough admire the exactness with which he has enriched his painting in all those particulars.

He used frequently to examine the ancient sculptures in the vineyards about Rome, and this confirmed him more and more in the love of. those antiquities. He would spend several days together in making reflections upon them by himself. It was in these retirements that he considered the extraordinary effects of nature with respect to landscapes, that he designed his animals, his distances, his trees, and every thing excellent that was agreeable to his taste. He also made curious observations on the works of Raphael and Domenichino; who of all painters, in his opinion, invented best, designed most correctly, and expressed the passions most, vigorously three things, which Poussin esteemed the most essential parts of painting. He neglected nothing that could render his knowledge in these three parts perfect he was altogether as curious about the general expression of his subjects, which he has adorned with every thing that he thought would excite the attention of the learned. He left no very large compositions behind him; and all the reason we can give for it is, that he had no opportunity to paint them; for we cannot imagine that it was any thing more than chance, that made him apply himself wholly to easel pieces, of a size proper for a cabinet, such as the curious required of him.

Louis XIII. and de Noyers, minister of state and superintendant of the buildings, wrote to him at Rome to oblige him to return to France to which he consented with great reluctance. He had a pension assigned him, and a lodging ready furnished at the Thuilleries. He drew the picture o “The Lord’s Supper,” for the chapel of the castle of St. Germain, and that which is in the Jesuit’s noviciate at Paris. He began “The Labours of Hercules,” in the gallery of the Louvre; but Vouet’s school railing at him and his works, put him out of humour with his own country. He was also weary of the tumultuous way of living at Paris, which never agreed with him. For these reasons he secretly resolved to return to Rome, pretending he went to settle his domestic affairs and fetch his wife; but when he was there, whether he found himself in his proper situation, or was quite put off from any thought of returning to by tae deaths of Richelieu and the king, which | happened about that time, he never afterwards left Italy. He continued working on his easel-pieces, and sent them from Rome to Paris the French buying them very eagerly, whenever they could be obtained, and valuing his productions as much as Raphael’s.

Poussin, having lived happily to his seventy-first year, died paralytic in 1665. He married the sister of Caspar Dughet, by whom he had no children. His estate amounted to no more than sixty thousand livres; but he valued his ease above riches, and preferred his abode at Rome, where he lived without ambition, to fortune elsewhere. He never made words about the price of his pictures; but put it down at the back of the canvas, and it was always given him. He had no disciple. The following anecdote much illustrates his character. Bishop Mancini, who was afterwards a cardinal, staying once on a visit to him till it was dark, Poussin took the candle in his hand, lighted him down stairs, and waited upon him to his coach. The prelate was sorry to see him do it himself, and could not help saying, “1 very much pity you, Monsieur Poussin, that you have not one servant.” “And I pity you more, my lord,” replied Poussin, “that you have so many.1


Argenville, vol. IV.-Pilkington. -Reynolds’s Works.