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Re-emergence of a Major Poussin

May 3, 2012

Nicolas Poussin, The Crossing of the Red Sea c. 1634. Oil on canvas, 155.6 x 215.3 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1948. (click on image to enlarge).

Art Daily has news of the restoration of this epic painting by Nicolas Poussin.  It’s owned by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia and is a pendant to a work in London’s National Gallery. Interestingly, the restoration was guided with the aid of a long lost replica, made 50 years after the original, that was re-discovered in 2009.

Additional details from NGV:

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said: “After nearly two years off display I am delighted to unveil Poussin’s magnificent masterpiece The Crossing of the Red Sea. This world-renowned work, acquired by the NGV in 1948 through the Felton Bequest, has been meticulously and successfully restored by Carl Villis, Conservator European Paintings before 1800, NGV.

“The restoration has revealed much about the artists’s magnificent use of colour and light gradation. Now that the project is complete, I encourage everyone to come and see this majestic work on display once again,” said Dr Vaughan.

Carl Villis, Conservator European Paintings before 1800, NGV said: “This has been a long and challenging restoration project, but also a very rewarding one. Before the treatment began we carried out an extensive technical examination of the painting, which revealed a number of troubling issues relating to the surface of the painting. In particular, the upper half of the painting had suffered from past cleaning attempts, resulting in the loss of several important details.

“Fortunately the rediscovery in 2009 of a long-lost replica – painted around 50 years later than the original – showed us just how different Poussin’s sky once looked. Using this high-quality replica as a guide, we have been able to reinstate some of those missing details. For the first time in generations we can see Poussin’s wonderful painting in something closer to its original appearance.”

Poussin is recognised as one of the greatest French painters of the 17th Century, known for his dramatic and emotional story-telling expressed through grand gesture and pose. The Crossing of the Red Sea displays Poussin’s unique balance of colour and composition. The painting depicts an episode from the Old Testament Book of Exodus, where Moses performs the miracle of parting the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the pursuing Egyptians, who subsequently drown.

The companion piece to The Crossing of the Red Sea is The Adoration of the Golden Calf, which belongs to the National Gallery in London. Poussin painted these two works together in 1633—34 for the Turin collector Amedeo dal Pozzo; for over 300 years these two paintings were kept side by side, most particularly in the Radnor Collection at Longford Castle in England, from the early 18th Century until 1948.

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