Sébastien Bourdon was born in Montpellier in 1616. He trained in Rome and Paris, and served as court painter to Queen Christina of Sweden. He was one of the most brilliant artists of 17th-century France, but until now has remained one of the very few French painters of his day never to have been granted a major national, historical retrospective.
For the first time, this exhibition presents a selection of works from international collections, testifying to Bourdon's genius, his delight in painting, and his leading role as a first-class painter alongside Poussin, Le Sueur, La Hyre or Le Brun. Bourdon's wide-ranging sources of inspiration testify to his exceptional sensitivity, his ability to embrace quite different, even contradictory schools of thought, and to identify and extract their intrinsic value. His scientific apprehension of volume gives his compositions extraordinary solidity and depth, while his use of pure, saturated colours provides tremendous energy and brio. He excels in all genres: burlesque tavern scenes; timelessly-beautiful landscapes; sensual, Baroque altarpieces; history paintings that increasingly reflect his sensitivity to Poussin's noble classicism and meditative qualities; elegant, refined portraits in the manner of Van Dyck. The exhibition includes a number of masterpieces kindly loaned by leading institutions including the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC (The Finding of Moses), the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design (the remarkable Landscape with a Mill), and the Louvre, with a number of exceptional works including The Presentation in the Temple, plus several French regional museums (Lille, Lyons, Brest …), the Hermitage in St Petersburg (The Death of Dido), and the Prado in Madrid (with a number of works including Bourdon's legendary painting of Queen Christina on Horseback). Some 75 works are presented chronologically, including 50 drawings and prints, covering the full scope of Bourdon's career, and highlighting his multifaceted artistry, elegant classicism, extraordinarily rich use of colour.