By the end of his life, Poussin had turned to the simplicity of his earlier style, but it was drained of any trace of emotion. Another version of the subject of Et in Arcadia Edo, painted some ten years later, provides a revealing contrast. The same four figures study the same tomb, but in a mood of a deep stillness. Gone is the urgency of the earlier pairing and much of the poetry. In its place, Poussin creates a mood of philosophical calm and tries to recapture the lofty spirit of antiquity, most notably in the noble brow and solemn stance of the shepherdess. Compensating for the loss of warmth is the transcendent beauty of the image.
Throughout his life he stood aloof from the popular movement of his native school. French art in his day was purely decorative, but in Poussin we find a survival of the impulses of the Renaissance coupled with conscious reference to classic work as the standard of excellence. In general we see his paintings at a great disadvantage: for the color, even of the best preserved, has changed in parts, so that the harmony is disturbed; and the noble construction of his designs can be better seen in engravings than in the original. Among the many who have reproduced his works, Audran, Claudine Stella, Picart and Pesne are the most successful.
Nicolas Poussin's style is utterly distinct in Baroque art. Unlike the vibrant vivacity of Rubens, the gut-wrenching drama of Caravaggio, or the stunning realism of Velázquez, Poussin's style is cool, cerebral, intellectual and detached. Perhaps more than any other artist of the Baroque, Poussin obsessively theorized about his art, painstakingly planning every detail of his composition in order to create maximum impact. The result may seem stiff and dry to the contemporary viewer, but the fact remains that Poussin's style was enormously influential for the future of Western art.
Poussin did not begin to treat landscape as an independent element until after 1648. One reason for this might lie in the fact that landscapes, unlike architecture and human figures, were not actually included in the artistic canon of classical antiquity. This meant that Poussin had to rely entry on his own inspiration in evoking nature from the spirit of antiquity as he saw it.
The best-known works of the period are – The Rescue of Pyrrhus (1634), The Noble Deed of Scipio (1640). Very popular in his time were the so-called bacchanal series, commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu. One of them, which survived, is Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite (1634). Those paintings were supposed to decorate the cardinal’s palace, and this fact indicates that the interest to Poussin in France grew. In the second half of the 1630s the young artists in Paris chose to follow Poussin’s style in historical genre. The King’s officials wanted to return the artist to France. Poussin did not hurry back. He came to France only in 1840, after they had passed him the King’s threat. In Paris Poussin was immediately appointed the person in charge of all art works in the King’s palaces. This caused violent jealousy on the part of other court artists; Vouet headed the opposition.
Poussin's voyeuristic satyrs seem to be creatures without souls. Their bliss is shared by the artist. Human flesh set against the warm colours of nature makes this a deeply seductive scene. Poussin's heart is not stuffed with ice. His stern classicism is not the pose of a cool intellect, but a triumph over his intense nature. His pastoral world rages with contained fires of lust, longing, anger and terror. He is, in reality, as sensual as Caravaggio, as emotional as Rembrandt.
Poussin’s growing preoccupation with the works of antiquity and of Raphael resulted in a new clarity of composition in such paintings as the Adoration of the Magi (1633; Dresden) and The Golden Calf (c.1635; National Gall., London). His figures began to exhibit greater linear precision and sculptural solidity. Poussin became especially concerned with the didactic and philosophical possibilities of painting. He formulated the doctrines that became the basis of French classical and academic art, whereby a work was intended to arouse rational and intellectual, rather than visual, response in the viewer. His approach to and successful justification of this intellectualization profoundly influenced painting far into the 19th cent.
Poussin believed in reason as the guiding principle of art, yet his figures are never merely cold or lifeless. They may resemble figures used by Raphael or ancient Roman sculptures in their poses, but they retain a strange and unmistakable vitality of their own. Even in Poussin's late period, when all movement, including gesture and facial expression, had been reduced to a minimum, his forms harmoniously combine vitality with intellectual order.
Poussin aimed to achieve a pure and noble style of painting inspired by the classical ideals of ancient art and the work of Raphael. [...] He did not employ assistants and preferred painting for private patrons, Italian and French, who shared his scholarly and artistic interests. His work exerted a profound influence on French academic painting. The formal structure and rigour of his compositions, however, has continued to inspire modern artists.
If a painter can be judged by the love he inspires, Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) was one of art history’s favorite valentines. Corot, Delacroix, Constable and Cézanne all adored him. So did Picasso and Matisse. Nor were artists his only fans. The 19th-century English critic William Hazlitt surpassed himself in his praise of Poussin and may well have introduced his work to an already deeply Poussinian John Keats.