Nicolas Poussin

French painter (b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma), a leader of pictorial classicism in the Baroque period. Except for two years as court painter to Louis XIII, he spent his entire career in Rome. His paintings of scenes from the Bible and from Greco-Roman antiquity influenced generations of French painters, including Jacques-Louis David, J.-A.-D. Ingres, and Paul Cézanne.

Rome had a tremendous impact on Poussin and through him had a tremendous effect on French art in the subsequent centuries. Poussin was heavily influenced by the classical ideals of Italian art and thrived on the lifestyle in Rome that fostered this mentality. Poussin spent over half of his life, and almost his entire productive artistic career in Rome. Despite the fact that he was a practicing artist before his time in Rome, it is said that his artistic career truly began with his arrival in the Eternal City. He served many Roman patrons but was also extremely popular with French patrons. But, he not only influenced French patrons but he also heavily impacted the future of French art. He influenced numerous French artists:

For Ingres, for instance, Poussin was a model of classical composition, surpassed only by Raphael and the Antique; Degas saw in him "purity of drawing, breadth of modeling, and grandeur of composition"; Cézanne aimed at revivifying Poussin's formal perfection by a renewed contact with nature; and the early Cubists saw in him the near-abstract qualities which they themselves sought.

Poussin also significantly influenced the institution of French art. The teachings of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, established in 1648 were founded on the ideals of Poussin.2 His conception of the importance of drawing as the fundamental intellectual basis of painting was considered gospel for the Academy. His artistic priorities about the supremacy of history painting were considered the official stance on artistic value. And despite the fact that during the early portions of the eighteenth century his values were followed more in word than in practice, his influence is seen again in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in artists like David and Ingres.

Just as Rome had a tremendous influence on the political history of France with Charlemagne and Napoleon, so it had an enormous influence on the artistic history of France through artists like Poussin. Poussin's love of the city, and France's love of Poussin produced a strong tie that continued into the twentieth century.