Wednesday 8 September 2010

Chicken Feed

Steph is definitely the artist in the family – but although I cannot paint myself, I do enjoy looking at art. A snippet of local news just caught my eye…Here is Belvoir Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes Of Rutland, just a few miles up the road from here.

belvoir castle

[not what you’d call a small residence!] Anyway, they are having to sell some of their art to raise money for restorations and renovation, and it is causing a bit of a fuss.

The picture in question is “Ordination”

poussin ordination belvoir

This is one of a set of “Seven Sacraments” painted by this artist, Nicolas Poussin [born in Normandy in 1594] Here he is


The family have had these paintings for years [since 1785] but carelessly, “Penance” got destroyed in a fire in 1816, and “Baptism” [below] was sold to the National Gallery in Washington DC in 1939. [btw -why is the River Jordan just a feeble little puddle? I’m a much water/full immersion gal myself]

poussin baptism nat gall washington

So now they have five pictures left – they nearly sold them all about three years ago, but didn’t ‘for family reasons’ [see here] Now they are auctioning just one of them.

According to Richard Dorment, in the Telegraph today

“Painted in the 1630s, Poussin’s series represents God’s direct intervention in seven stages in the Christian life. In each scene he developed an intimate visual language of gesture and expression to depict the highly emotional responses of each individual to the reception of divine grace. The series is a single work of art. To break it up is to diminish its cumulative impact.”

I first became interested in Poussin about twenty years ago, when I saw James Fox and Prunella Scales in Alan Bennett’s brilliant play “A Question Of Attribution” which was all about Anthony Blunt – who was Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, and was revealed in 1979 to be the Fourth Man in the Burgess/Philby/Maclean spy ring.

I think- like HM – I was fascinated by the idea of an artist whose surname meant “chicken”! [there should be a YouTube clip here, but it keeps mysteriously disappearing from the post! try here]

Then in 1998, a Poussin was auctioned – it sold for £4.5 million and was donated by the Rothschild Foundation to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem [The Destruction and Sack of the Temple in Jerusalem]

Poussin conquest of Jerusalem

You can read more about this one here – and the response of Dr Jonathan Sacks to this painting. It had originally been wrongly attributed and sold for a mere £155,000. The previous owner sued Sotheby's for £4.5 million! [there was eventually an out of court settlement]

I believe that great works of art should be accessible to everybody – not shut away in places where only a few can see them. Richard Dorment may be right when he says it will diminish the impact if the set is broken up. I think it is certainly a bad thing for something to disappear into the hands of a private collector where it cannot be enjoyed by more than a handful of people.

I am not sure I shall ever get to Jerusalem to see Poussin’s painting there – but I am greatly relieved it is on public display at last – considering the fact that the man who had it for the second half of the twentieth century kept it hanging in his chicken shed [see here]

And he didn’t even know it was by Monsieur Poussin/Mr Chicken!

Christie’s guide price for “Ordination” is £15-£20 million.

We shan’t be buying it to hang in the lounge at Cornerstones then.


  1. Some of those paintings are very dramatic aren't they? It does seem a shame that they've all been split up - albeit, one by fire! Blessings!

  2. I can't believe you live in the same town as that castle! Here in the States, the castles are few and far between. What fun!

    I enjoyed this post--lots of interesting art to chew on (figuratively speaking, of course).


  3. Well, actually Frances, the castle in OUR village is smaller than Belvoir, which is a few miles up the road. The UK seems to have many such buildings, and we don't really appreciate them all!!


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