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Poussin masterpiece in Liverpool

Posted on Monday 2nd March 2015
Sacrement of Extreme Unction

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

Walker Art Gallery to display famed painting

A masterpiece by Nicolas Poussin, one of the greatest artists of the 17th century, will be displayed at the Walker Art Gallery from 6 March to 7 June 2015.

The painting is on tour from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, with the Walker Art Gallery providing the only opportunity to see the work in the north of England.

Extreme Unction, or ‘final anointing’, depicts a powerful and moving scene in which a family gathers at the bedside of a dying man as he is administered his last rites.

Sandra Penketh, Director of Art Galleries, said:

“The Walker Art Gallery is delighted to show our visitors this masterpiece. It is one of the most remarkable paintings Poussin ever produced. The picture’s composition, detail and its sensitive portrayal of such an intimate moment in life will enthral visitors.”

The painting is one of a series known as the Seven Sacraments, seven works depicting the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Poussin (1594-1665) imagined each scene taking place in Ancient Roman times and drew on his extensive study of the art and artefacts of classical antiquity to represent the clothing, setting and structure of the paintings themselves.

Extreme Unction (c. 1638-40) will be displayed alongside two landscape paintings by Poussin from the Walker Art Gallery’s own collection: Landscape with Bacchus, Ceres, Nymph and Satyrs (about 1626) and Landscape with the gathering of the ashes of Phocion (1648).

Landscape with Bacchus, Ceres, Nymph and Satyrs was painted shortly after Poussin’s arrival in Rome from his native France in the mid 1620s, while Landscape with the gathering of the ashes of Phocion represents the later work for which he is celebrated as the inventor of classical landscape painting.

Xanthe Brooke, Curator of Fine Art (European) said:

“Displayed together, the three works span Poussin’s entire career and provide a unique insight into the development of this incredibly influential artist’s work over the decades. Visitors can also see an intriguing x-ray photograph of Landscape with Bacchus, Ceres, Nymph and Satyrs which reveals how Poussin went about creating his remarkable masterpieces.”

Both works from the Gallery’s collection came from local collections. Landscape with the gathering of the ashes of Phocion was purchased by the 12th Earl of Derby for Knowsley Hall some time between 1776 and 1782, while Landscape with Bacchus, Ceres, Nymph and Satyrs was in the Liverpool Royal Institution by the mid 1840s.

The Seven Sacraments was commissioned by the renowned collector and scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo and hung in his palace in Rome. However, the set is of particular importance to the UK as it has long been in British collections.

In 1785, the series was sold for £2,000 to Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland, and brought to England. Shortly after, they were publicly exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. King George III was among those who visited, accompanied by the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The series is no longer complete. Penance was destroyed by fire in 1816, Baptism was sold around 1939 and is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Ordination was sold in 2011 to the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

The Walker Art Gallery display will also feature a black and white lithographic print titled Landscape, After Poussin by present-day artist and writer Alexander Adams, who was inspired by Landscape with the gathering of the Ashes of Phocion to create this variant copy in 1994.

The Adams print also demonstrates how Poussin continues to influence and attract modern-day and 20th century artists, who have included Cézanne, Picasso and the contemporary English artist Bridget Riley.

The Walker Art Gallery, located on William Brown Street, Liverpool, is open daily from 10am-5pm. Entry to the Gallery and exhibitions is free. For more information, visit liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker

Notes to Editors

About the tour
Extreme Unction will be on show in 2015 from 6 March - 7 June at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 12 June - 13 September at the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, and 18 September - 13 December at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. 

About National Museums Liverpool
National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic.   

We attract more than 2.7 million visitors every year. Our venues are the International Slavery Museum, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool, Sudley House, Border Force National Museum (Seized! The Border and Customs Uncovered), Walker Art Gallery and World Museum.

One of the finest art galleries in Europe, the Walker Art Gallery is home to renaissance masterpieces, Tudor portraits and one of the best collections of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art in the country. An outstanding display of contemporary art includes work by David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Bridget Riley.

Walker Art Gallery William Brown Street, Liverpool    
Admission FREE
Open 10am-5pm daily                                                
Information 0151 478 4199

Website liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker
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