Nicolas Poussin (French, 15941665)
Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over faint black chalk underdrawing; 5 1/4 x 8 1/8 in. (13.3 x 20.6 cm)
Purchase, David T. Schiff Gift, 1998 (1998.225)
Although he spent most of his career in Rome, Poussin was considered the greatest living French artist, and his work was avidly sought by influential French collectors. This sparkling study can be related to the Triumph of Pan (National Gallery, London) executed for Cardinal Richelieu, the French minister of state, along with a pendant depicting the Triumph of Bacchus (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City). While the finished painting depicts a scene of sensual abandon, the drawn studies reveal Poussin's cerebral process of composition, in which individual figures are treated as formal elements of a tightly knit composition based on classical ideals of beauty. Here, broad, abstracted areas of wash are used to explore the volume and spatial relations of the complex figural group that can be seen, in reversed direction, at the left side of the painting. At least four other studies for the painting survivetwo at Windsor Castle, England, and two at Bayonne, Francesuggesting the care with which Poussin prepared this important commission.