Study of a Palm Tree (recto); Mountain Landscape (verso), ca. 1635–40
Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594–1665)
Pen and brown ink, over traces of black chalk (recto); pen and brown ink (verso); 8 1/16 x 10 3/16 in. (20.5 x 25.8 cm)
Inscribed in pen and brown ink: (recto, lower left) N. Poussin; (lower right) D and C [interlaced]; an unidentified collector's mark, probably early 18th century, previously thought to be that of Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609–1694).
Purchase, Guy Wildenstein Gift, and Van Day Truex and Harry G. Sperling Funds, 2002 (2002.39a,b)
This rare, double-sided sheet comprises two studies by Nicolas Poussin, a founding figure of the French grand manner. A new discovery, it joins a small group of landscape drawings, presumably made in plein air, that offer evidence that Poussin's classicizing landscapes were based on the direct observation of nature.
On the recto is a study of a palm tree with lush foliage and rough bark. Detailed studies of individual landscape motifs are otherwise unknown in Poussin's oeuvre, though lone palm trees do occupy prominent positions in several of his paintings, where they serve to identify the setting as the Holy Land. On the verso, Poussin created an expansive landscape with a remarkable economy of means. Although the composition does not appear to be connected to an extant painting, the distant craggy peaks, the stand of trees to the right, and the tree used as a repoussoir on the left are all typical landscape elements in the artist's repertoire. Typical as well is the curving diagonal axis that leads the eye from foreground to middle ground.