Room 29

French Painting 1600–1700

In the 17th century, political ambitions to make of Paris a new Rome resulted in more French-born painters making their careers in the French capital. This trend was encouraged by the founding in 1648 of a royal academy of the arts, and by many wealthy individuals refurbishing their homes. Paintings such as Philippe de Champaigne’s full-length portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu make manifest the increasing power and self-confidence that was felt in France in this period. 

The most important French painter of the 17th century, however, did not live in Paris. Nicolas Poussin settled in Rome in 1624, where his style was shaped primarily by antique and Renaissance art. Poussin adapted Titian’s loose brushwork and harmonious colouring, often arranging his figures in a triangular composition. From about 1630, he took greater inspiration from paintings by Raphael and from antique sculpture. In The Adoration of the Golden Calf, for example, his figures are arranged frieze-like across the surface of the picture.

Claude Gellée, also known as Claude Lorrain, was the most successful landscape painter of the 17th century. Among his patrons were numerous members of European nobility, including Philip IV of Spain and Pope Urban VIII. Claude specialised in idealised landscapes and port scenes, in which he often mixed the real with the fictive. His great innovation was painting the sun facing the viewer.