POUSSIN, Nicolas
(b. 1594, Les Andelys, d. 1665, Roma)

Winter (The Deluge)

Oil on canvas, 118 x 160 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Seasons, the four canvasses of Poussin's late period now in the Louvre, are an even more extreme personal statement than the Landscape with Diana and Orion. All Poussin's severity and pessimism seem to have disappeared in these paintings, to be replaced by a fusion of all the poetical leanings in his nature. They are the supreme expression, not in this case of mind over eye, but of praise for the beauty and grandeur of nature, now ordered by man, and now defeating man. Spring is luxuriant, Summer a fecund harvest, Autumn the gathering of mellow grapes and Winter the terrible deluge in which all mankind is overwhelmed and destroyed.

These pictures exist on a complex series of levels, and even the most unscholarly spectator must be aware that Poussin was trying to balance moods and ideas in a much more subtle and intricate way than usual. Firstly, the pictures are a sequence, and they are hung in this way in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre. Spring is cool in tone, Summer and Autumn are warm, and Winter is cold. Even this obvious modulation of tones has its own rhythm. In all but Winter man is seen in harmony with nature, especially in Spring, surely one of the most perfect evocations of Paradise since the subject was attempted by fifteenth-century Netherlandish painters.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 11 minutes):
Vivaldi: Concerto in F minor RV 297 op. 8 No. 4 (Winter)