Nicolas Poussin, Vénus and Adonis

7 July 2008 - 6 October 2008

For the first time in France the musée Fabre in Montpellier Agglomeration is exhibiting the painting Venus and Adonis by Nicolas Poussin, which has been exceptionally reconstructed, thanks to a unique partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. The two sections of this painting, Venus and Adonis from the musée Fabre and Landscape with a River God from the Patti Birch Trust, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, will be reunited in one single frame, restoring the painting to its former glory. Already shown in New York in the exhibition Poussin and nature – Arcadian visions, February to May 2008, the reunion of these two canvases is an exceptional event in the world of art history, permitting the fabulous renaissance of a masterpiece which has lain dormant for over two centuries.

The remarkable history of the canvas Venus and Adonis, by Nicolas Poussin

The painting donated by Francois-Xavier Fabre in 1825 would have remained simply one of the masterpieces of Montpellier’s museum had its history not been totally turned upside down during the 1970s. The restoration of its support enabled the discovery, on the reverse of the original canvas, of an inscription: AGRI PROPE CRYPTAM FERRATAM PROSPECTUS A. NICO. Comparable to those already found on the paintings that once belonged to Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657), collector and art patron of Poussin, it revealed that the landscape depicted the site of Grottaferrata, near Rome and that ‘NICO’ could easily be considered as half of Poussin’s first name. In 1980 Clovis Whitfield brought together this evidence with the reference to a ‘View of Grottaferrata’ at number 113 in the 1695 inventory by one of Cassiano’s heirs. It was longer than Venus and Adonis, but by placing on its left another painting attributed to Poussin: Landscape with a River God, the entire image attained the size given in the inventory and the two compositions worked together perfectly. The unusual lengthening can be explained by the fact that, according to an old inventory, the painting served as an over-door painting. The original painting was commissioned by Cassiono del Pozzo, staying with his descendants who parted with it between 1740 and 1771, then it was cut in two at the end of the 18th century. The inscription on the reverse of the musée Fabre’s painting should continue on the back of Landscape with a River God but this has been re-lined, preventing us from confirming this theory. The right section of Venus and Adonis was bought by François-Xavier Fabre in Italy; the left section with the river god was acquired circa 1863-64 by the painter Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864), then director of the Académie de France in Rome, subsequently it belonged to his brother Paul (1811-1902), to the Bulloz family and, from 1961, to Mrs Patti Cadby Birch, a gallery owner in New York in the early 1950s and passionate collector of work by Man Ray and Zao Wou-Ki. Today the painting is in the safe-keeping of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.
The reconstructed painting is on show to the Montpellier public during the summer, in room 16 of the musée Fabre – Montpellier Agglomeration.

Look at the reconstitution

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