Poussin and the Dance ★★★★★ The National Gallery | Oct 9, 2021 - Jan 2, 2022


Poussin and the Dance concentrates on a relatively small part of the artist's output, but it is a large and spacious exhibition which is beautifully displayed and annotated. All too often Nicolas Poussin, who was active at the beginning of the seventeenth century, is thought of as a very serious painter. Here we see another side of the man: this is the hedonist seemingly delighting in the orgiastic revels he paints. In the majority of the works on show there are ample amounts of bare flesh as the characters cavort wildly. The women are usually softly voluptuous but are at least partially clothed, while many of his males are nude. Poussin's depiction of their musculature is outstanding. Commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu, three particular paintings featuring Pan, Bacchus and his debauched and fat old friend, Silenus, are provocatively lewd. These people certainly knew how to enjoy themselves! A small drawing of three naked satyrs balancing on a large wine bag is particularly charming. One whole room is devoted to "A Dance to the Music of Time." This gorgeous work displays Poussin's ability to depict wonderfully graceful movement with apparent ease. To achieve this effect, it appears the dancers were painted as nudes and then flowing draperies were added. Unusually for the time, Poussin used ancient art as a reference, and here we see the fantastic Borghese Vase, decorated with cavorting figures, from which he may well have drawn inspiration. In turn, this magnificent exhibition offers its viewers an equally provocative, delightful revelation!

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Image: Nicolas Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time (circa 1634). © The Trustees of the Wallace Collection.

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