Nicolas, a French painter, born in Grand Andely, Normandy, in 1593 or 1594, died in Rome, Nov. 19,1665. He belonged to an ancient but impoverished family of the French nobility, and was carefully instructed in literature and the sciences. He acquired the elements of his art from two French painters of moderate ability, but received his first ideas of style and composition from studying engravings of the works of Raphael and Giulio Romano. He visited Rome in 1624, and was presented to Cardinal Barberini. For several years after the departure of this prelate from the city he earned a bare subsistence by disposing of his pictures for trifling sums. His style was founded mainly on the antique; and so engrossing were his studies of the ancient statues that, as Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, " he may be said to have been better acquainted with them than with the people who were about him." Fuseli said that " he painted basso rilievo." His " Death of Germanicus " and " Capture of Jerusalem by Titus," painted for Cardinal Barberini, first brought him into notice, and in 1639 Louis XIII. sent him a special invitation to France, made him his first painter in ordinary, with a pension, and lodged him in the Tuileries. The jealousy of rival artists rendered his life uncomfortable, and in 1642 he returned to Rome, where he lived quietly, absorbed in the practice of his art, and produced many large easel pictures which he readily disposed of at moderate prices.
As a painter of history, classical mythology, or allegory, and of landscape, Poussin was one of the most remarkable and learned artists of his age; and his works, which are widely dispersed, are still held in great esteem. His historical works, according to Dr. Waagen, represent three distinct periods: the first, comprising his early residence in Rome, being distinguished by hardness of outline, thin coloring, and defective composition; the second, by excellence of composition and expressive heads; and the third, by an imitation of the antique which finally becomes mannered and monotonous. The Louvre contains a noble collection of his large historical pieces, including " The Deluge," "The Rape of the Sabines," "Eliezer and Rebecca," "The Finding of Moses," "Christ appearing at the Prayer of St. Francis Xavier and healing a Japanese Woman," which Waagen calls the best of all his altarpieces, and " Christ healing the Blind Man of Jericho," which according to the same authority is the most satisfactory of his later works. In the same collection are his celebrated Et in Arcadia Ego and "Eurydice bitten by the Serpent." The Louvre also contains the series of " Four Seasons," painted during the last five years of his life.
In the British national gallery are some of the finest of his purely classical or mythological subjects, one of which, " The Dance of the Bacchanals," reflects so completely the spirit of antique sculpture that it might have been copied from the bass reliefs of a Grecian urn. But the most celebrated of Poussin's works in England are the two sets of "The Seven Sacraments " in Bel voir castle and the Bridgewater gallery. In the latter collection is also a fine picture of " Moses striking the Rock," and in that of Mr. Miles at Leigh Court the well known "Plague of Athens." Scattered throughout his works are also pieces from sacred and profane history of much sweetness of tone and expression; " a proof," observes Mrs. Jameson, " that Nicolas Poussin could be, when he chose, a poetical and effective colorist." On the other hand, he could descend to the most revolting treatment of a subject, as in his "Martyrdom of St. Erasmus " in the Vatican, in which the entrails of the saint are in the act of being wound out of his body by a windlass around which they are twisted.
His landscapes are commonly embellished with ancient architecture or figures taken from classical mythology and history, and present excellent specimens of what is called the "heroic" style of this department of painting.
Caspar, brother-in-law of the preceding, born in Rome in 1613, died there in 1675. His family name was Dughet, but after the marriage of Nicolas Poussin with his sister, he was adopted by Nicolas, who had no children, and assumed his name. Under the instruction of his brother-in-law he became very eminent in the department of landscape and in ideal pictures. He improved his color by studying the works of Claude Lorraine. His peculiar skill in aerial effects was shown in his land storms, of which a well known example, representing Dido and AEneas taking refuge from the tempest in a cave, is in the British national gallery. In the same collection is a landscape entitled "Abraham and Isaac going to the Sacrifice," which has been called the painter's masterpiece.