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The “High Art” of Nicolas Poussin
by Karen Wilkin
On the Poussin retrospective at the Louvre.
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Hardly anyone dares use the term High Art these daysnot without high ironybut its difficult to know how else to categorize works that present elevated and learned themes with great formal rigor and scrupulous evocation of the antique. Think of the stately rhythms of Corneilles verse dramas, the astringent harmonies of Charpentiers operas, and the recondite plots, drawn from mythology, of both; then think of the sober, passionate canvases of their near-contemporary, Nicolas Poussin (1594 1665), and you know exactly what I mean: arcadian landscapes and scenes of ancient cities, where idealized men and women, gods and heroes, patriarchs and saints, solemnly enact remote dramas, like stage performers frozen in noble, expressive attitudespictures whose authority and sureness, no less than their subject matter or manner, make only the problematic phrase High Art seem appropriate. ...
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 13 January 1995, on page 18
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