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The National Gallery concludes that ‘The Triumph of Silenus’ was painted by Nicolas Poussin | Culture

'The Triumph of Silenus', canvas measuring 142.9 by 120.5 centimeters, by Nicolas Poussin, made around 1636.
‘The Triumph of Silenus’, canvas measuring 142.9 by 120.5 centimeters, by Nicolas Poussin, made around 1636.National Gallery

Inside the painting, the chaos will continue forever. After all, it portrays a bacchanalia. But, out, the confusion that has surrounded The triumph of Silenus just found an answer. After decades of uncertain authorship, the National Gallery of London announced this Thursday its renewed certainty: the latest conservation works allow us to affirm that it is an original work of the French master Nicolas Poussin, made around 1636, and not a copy , as was believed for much of the twentieth century.

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The triumph of Silenus thus it returns, in reality, to the starting square. The painting was one of the first to enter the National Gallery, in 1824. So much so that it constituted one of the pillars of the “foundation of the museum,” as Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, associate curator for painting between 1600 and 1800, recalls in a Article in the art magazine Burlington Magazine. And so it was listed as a poussin. The doubts, however, accumulated until in 1946 it began to be attributed to Pierre Dulin, among other hypotheses.

“Almost all 20th century Poussin specialists have rejected his authorship for his [baja] quality and weakness of composition, ”writes Whitlum-Cooper. The discolored varnishes, characters portrayed “in a crude way” and the sensation of imperfection reinforced the theories that this work could not belong to the greatest French painter of the seventeenth century. Above all, in comparison with the excellence of two other bacchanalia that Poussin reproduced in those years: The triumph of Pan (also in the National Gallery) and The triumph of Bacchus (at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, USA). Hence, the original was considered lost and the work exhibited in room 29 ended up being accepted as a copy. Up to now.

“It can never be said with complete certainty that an end point has been reached, but we found very convincing evidence in favor of Poussin’s authorship,” explains Letizia Treves, curator of late 17th-century painting at the museum, by email. . Hence, the painting is already listed as a poussin. And so the public will be able to see it if the center reopens on May 17, as planned. “The curators of the National Gallery work together with the members of its conservation and scientific departments in the attribution of a work, and in this they can take into account elements such as its origin and commission, its technical examination, the scientific analysis of the works. pigments, X-rays or stylistic study. In addition, the museum, through its contacts, has access to comparative materials from other collections ”, adds Treves. And he points out that what happened is “rare, but not an isolated event.” There are several pieces in the center not attributed to any artist, but considered “of very good quality”, which are being the subject of similar investigations.

'The Triumph of Silenus', exhibited in room 29 of the National Gallery in London.
‘The Triumph of Silenus’, exhibited in room 29 of the National Gallery in London.National Gallery

In the case of The triumph of Silenus, It was Whitlum-Cooper who lobbied for a series of treatments to be started. Treves hints that attribution was one of the goals: “It was decided that the painting would benefit. And there were certainly questions that needed answers. ” In the painting, old Silenus has drunk so much that he can’t even stand. To avoid falling, he supports one leg on the back of a tiger while, around him, the orgy of alcohol, pleasure and violence does not stop. And a flute player, in the center of the canvas, looks at the viewer as if to encourage him to join the party. The curators of the National Gallery accepted the invitation. And they have dived into the painting until discovering multiple pictorial and historical clues.

Among the former, Whitlum-Cooper cites several repentances (changes during the making of the painting) that would make little sense in a copy of a finished work; In addition, the pigments are almost identical to those used in The triumph of Pan, and the Nelson-Atkins museum recently discovered that all three canvases were cut from the same roll. The new light that the work has acquired weakens the hints about its low quality.

But the research is also supported by context. The three bacchanalia were commissioned from Poussin between 1635 and 1636 by the all-powerful Cardinal Richelieu, who hung them in the cabinet of his castle in Poitou. Around 1741, they were replaced by copies and brought to England. The trail of the other two has been followed until today, while the trail of The triumph of Silenus it was lost. Even so, Whitlum-Cooper finds in history several pillars for his thesis.

It was a time of enormous occupation for Poussin. He also worked on the orders of Felipe IV for his Palacio del Buen Retiro: works such as Landscape with Saint Paul the Hermit O The turkey hunt, hanging in the Prado Museum. Richelieu, however, was not told no. And less in a context of Franco-Spanish war (between 1635 and 1639), where perhaps the cardinal saw the artist’s signing as another battlefront, according to Whitlum-Cooper. That would explain Poussin’s haste, along with another element: there is hardly a preparatory drawing for The triumph of Silenus, when the teacher usually performed a few.

Enough, then, for the National Gallery to decide on its reattribution. Now, the museum has 14 works by Poussin, one of the creator’s main world treasures. Treves avoids clarifying if there are plans to borrow The triumph of Bacchus and thus bring together the three bacchanalia of Richelieu. The truth, yes, is that between October 9, 2021 and January 2, 2022 The triumph of Silenus will participate in Poussin and the Dance, the first exhibition dedicated to the presence of dance in the work of the French. The dance of this authorship, on the other hand, has ended.

'The Triumph of Silenus' (left) together with 'The Triumph of Pan' (right), another work by Poussin, at the National Gallery.
‘The Triumph of Silenus’ (left) together with ‘The Triumph of Pan’ (right), another work by Poussin, at the National Gallery.National Gallery

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