A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term (detail), about 1632–33, Nicolas Poussin. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London. © The National Gallery, London

Dancing with Poussin


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Nicolas Poussin is remembered today as the father of French Classicism and a serious painter—more revered than loved—whose erudition offered a model for artists from Charles Le Brun to Paul Cézanne. The pictures that Poussin painted later in life can seem a bit stern and remote, but those he produced during his early career—in the 1620s and 1630s—are full of drunken revelry, sexual abandon, violence, and passion of every kind. They are also full of dancing, for in this period he made a name for himself as a painter of dances: breathless, rhythmic scenes made for collectors, cardinals, and the king of Spain. This lecture will explore Poussin’s dancing pictures, their reception, and their legacy.

Emily A. Beeny is curator of the exhibition Poussin and the Dance. A specialist in French paintings and drawings of the 17th through 19th centuries, she joined the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 2021 as curator in charge of European paintings. Her previous appointment was in the drawings department at the J. Paul Getty Museum, where she co-organized the exhibitions Manet and Modern Beauty (2019–2020) and La Surprise: Watteau in Los Angeles (2021–2022).

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