Art History: ‘Poussin And The Dance’ (The Getty)

“One of the hopes of this exhibition was really to try to enlist visitors’ bodily experience in their understanding of these works of art that can sometimes seem a little bit like they live entirely in our heads, a little bit intellectualized.”

Although Nicolas Poussin is widely regarded as the most influential painter of the 17th century—the father of French classicism—he is not as well-known as many of his contemporaries, such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Caravaggio. This is due, in part, to Poussin’s austere painting style and erudite subject matter, which often came from Roman history or the Bible. As a result, his work can sometimes feel a bit cold or remote to today’s audiences.

But earlier in his career, Poussin was inspired by dance. His paintings of wild revelry, filled with dancing satyrs and nymphs, emerged as his signature genre from that time. Poussin and the Dance, organized by the Getty Museum and the National Gallery in London, is the first exhibition to explore the theme of dance in Poussin’s work. By supplementing his delightful dancing pictures with new dance films by Los Angeles–based choreographers—this unique exhibition invites viewers into the world of Poussin in a fresh, relatable way.

In this episode, Emily Beeny, curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and curator of Poussin and the Dance, joins Sarah Cooper, public programs specialist at the Getty, to delve into Poussin’s process and love of dance.

The exhibition, which received generous support from the Leonetti/O’Connell Family Foundation and is sponsored by City National Bank, is on view at the Getty Center through May 8, 2022.

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