Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review: Poussin and the Dance at the National Gallery from 9 October 2021 to 2 January 2022

Exhibition Review: Poussin and the Dance at the National Gallery from 9 October 2021 to 2 January 2022

The National Gallery presents a new exhibition entitled Poussin and the Dance which explores the way the artist captured movement and the expressive use of the body.

For the first time in its 121-year history, the Wallace Collection has lent Nicolas Poussin’s painting Dance to the Music of Time (about 1634–6). This celebrated dance picture is the focus of the exhibition which features works by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Classical antiquities which inspired him.

The exhibition includes over twenty paintings and drawings from public and private collections in Europe and the USA, including the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (The Empire of Flora, 1630-31); The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (The Triumph of Bacchus, 1635-36); Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (Bacchus and Ariadne, 1625-1626); the National Galleries of Scotland (Study for A Dance to the Music of Time, ca.1634) and a series of drawings lent by Her Majesty the Queen.

The exhibition focuses on Poussin’s early career in Rome, from his arrival in the city in 1624 until about 1640 when he was called back to France to serve as First Painter to the King under Louis XIII. As a young man, Poussin was desperate to get to Rome, when he finally arrived he immersed himself into the Classical world he saw around him. He was particularly inspired by the dance sequences on antique sculptures. The exhibition includes the remarkable The Borghese Vase, first century CE and marble relief The Borghese Dancers, second century CE.

His early canvases in Rome reflected his admiration of the works of Titian. He gradually acquired the patronage of antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo and the art collector, Cardinal de Richelieu.

The exhibition explores how Poussin took on the challenge of capturing dance on paper and paint. When choreographing his compositions, he created wax figurines which he arranged in a kind of theatrical dance. The exhibition includes a reconstruction of some of these wax figurines.

The first room entitled Invitation to the Dance: Poussin’s Early Years in Rome includes Poussin’s The Realm of Flora 1630-1, Bacchus and Ariadne about 1625 – 1626, The Gaeta Vase first century BCE and a number of drawings.

The second room called Animating the Frieze includes Poussin’s A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term 1632-3, The Adoration of the Golden Calf 1633-4 and Relief with Five Dancers before a Portico (‘The Borghese Dancers’).

The third room celebrates the artist’s relationship with Cardinal de Richelieu with Poussin’s The Triumph of Silenus about 1636, The Triumph of Pan 1636, The Triumph of Bacchus 1635-6 and the Krater with a Procession of Dionysus (‘The Borghese Vase’) first century, CE.

The final room is dominated by Poussin’s masterpiece, Dance to the Music of Time (about 1634–6), the painting represents the perpetual cycle of the human condition: Poverty, Labour, Wealth and Pleasure, The dancers are accompanied on the lyre by the winged figure of Time. In this painting, Poussin finally achieves his goal of bringing the joy and movement of dance onto the canvas in a way that has inspired many people in subsequent generations. Poussin’s painting inspired Anthony Powell’s universally acclaimed 12-novel sequence of the same name, published between 1951 and 1975.

This fascinating exhibition explains some of the enigma about Poussin’s work, Nicolas Poussin is considered something of an artist’s artist. However his paintings are often overlooked by the public who often compare him unfavorably with Titian and others. Yet in his studies of Dance, Poussin could find his own voice and provide a visual representation of one of human beings most basic expressions of joy and goodwill.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the National Gallery website here

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