Getty Acquires Pivotal Landscape Work


The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired an important 17th century landscape painting by the pivotal French classicist Nicolas Poussin from a private collection in Great Britain. “Landscape With Calm,” from 1650, is one of a pair of pictures in which the artist poetically interpreted the relationship between nature and civilization.

The price for the painting was not disclosed. A knowledgeable source said Thursday that the museum paid about $26 million.

“Landscape With Calm” is an imaginary, idealized Italianate landscape framed by trees, in which shepherds tend their flocks by a glassy pond. Reflected in the water is a great country villa, backed by mountains that rise up into an azure sky filled with billowy clouds.


The picture’s companion, “Landscape With Storm,” demonstrates nature’s harsher side. The tempestuous landscape is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Rouen, France.

In the 1970s, “Landscape With Calm” was identified in the collection at Sudeley Castle, a country house in Gloucestershire, as a work by Poussin (1594-1665), who was perhaps the most famous foreign artist of the day working in Rome. The Getty has applied for an export license, which is required when important cultural properties are to be removed from Great Britain.

Granting of the license is by no means assured. In a notorious episode, the British government in 1989 refused the Getty an export license for sculptor Antonio Canova’s neoclassical masterpiece “The Three Graces.” The sculpture today remains crated and in storage.

“We’re fatalists about this,” Getty Museum Director John Walsh said of the British export process, while adding that he thought chances for success this time were “more than reasonably good. There are a lot of Poussins in British public collections, and [London’s] National Gallery has a great many.”

Application for an export license is followed by a hearing, at which a “stop” on export lasting several months is typically granted. Expert opinion is solicited on the quality and rarity of the work; if a determination is made that the painting should not be allowed to leave the country, the purchase price would have to be matched.

The painting would join another major Poussin work in Los Angeles, “The Holy Family,” purchased jointly in 1981 just before the dramatic upturn in the art market, by the Getty and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. The two museums acquired Poussin’s highly regarded religious painting for $3.8 million, after it failed to sell at auction. The joint purchase of the picture, dated 1651 and, at 38 by 52 3/8 inches, almost identical in size to the newly acquired landscape, was intended to prevent a bidding war from inflating the price.


Poussin’s influence on French painting is immense. His classical figure paintings of religious and mythological subjects were the foundation on which the revolutionary French artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) developed his neoclassical style. His big, carefully composed historical pictures became the prototype for the academic history paintings that dominated official French art in the 19th century.

And Poussin’s landscapes, although far fewer in number than the figurative pictures, were perhaps most influential of all. They had a profound impact on his contemporary, Claude Lorrain, and on the 18th century landscapist Camille Corot. Critically for modern art, they were also a major inspiration to Paul Cezanne (1839-1906).

“The landscapes hold a special place in Poussin’s oeuvre,” said the Getty’s Walsh. “His reputation rises and falls on the figurative pictures, like our ‘Holy Family,’ but the landscapes are among the most influential paintings he made.

“Cezanne is only the most famous artist who ‘went to school on’ these pictures,” Walsh said.

A $26-million price tag would place the Poussin in the upper reaches of the Getty’s acquisitions. Since January 1995, the museum has acquired two early Rembrandts--”Abduction of Europa” and “Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel”--for a combined price estimated at more than $30 million; a High Renaissance masterpiece by Fra Bartolommeo, “The Holy Family With the Infant St. John,” for $22.5 million; and an exceptional Cezanne, “Still Life With Apples,” for about $25 million.

The collection at Sudeley Castle, a 15th century estate that was once the home of Henry VIII’s last wife, Catherine Parr, was formed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It includes paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Sir Joshua Reynolds.


The estate is now the home of Lady Ashcombe and her son, Henry Dent Brocklehurst. In 1990, the Sudeley trustees sold John Constable’s landscape “The Lock” to the Thyssen Foundation in Lugano, Switzerland.