Nicolas Poussin (June 1594 – 19 November 1665) was the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style, Mythology style, although he spent most of his working life in Rome.
Poussin was deeply interested in the classical era of art, architecture, history, and philosophy and sought to include aspects of these in his work. His style morphed from sexy, richly-coloured mythological scenes to strong lines and darker-coloured religious images.
Poussin’s style became more and more classical over his career, and he became known as the leader of classicism. The subjects were clear, without distracting back or foreground, colour was toned down and subjects looked to be posed like heroic statues.
Poussin always researched his subjects thoroughly. He would read the entire story from which they were featured, whether from ancient Greece, Rome, or the Bible. His paintings told so much of a story in one scene, that Poussin became known as “the great storyteller.”
He had a very methodical approach to painting. Before he started painting, he would:
- make sketches on pen and wash;
- create small wax models and arrange them in a box like a tiny theatre, to study the light effects;
- create larger models to model the gestures he was trying to capture;
- add taffeta or wet paper to the models to study its draping effect;
And THEN he would finally start painting. It was a very long process! As he said himself, when asked what the key to his success was, “I tried to neglect nothing.”
Later in his career, landscape became a subject he often painted. From 1660-1664, he painted the series The Four Seasons depicting changes in seasons, changes in time of day, age, and the evolution of the spiritual history of humanity.
For centuries thereafter, the work of Nicolas Poussin was used as a standard in the teaching of art in France.