Nicolas Poussin is one of France’s greatest painters. Venus and Adonis is an important example of the mythologies he painted in Rome during the 1620s. In Rome, the artistic centre of Europe, Poussin absorbed the lessons of classical antiquity and the Italian masters. Poussin’s innovation was to merge these influences with an often astonishing realism, refined through extended on-site study of nature and the figure.
Venus and Adonis presents an idyllic depiction of the ancient world. Seen at sunset, Venus and Adonis share their love in a landscape peopled with cherubim. Both landscape and figures are painted with a free and light touch. In this way, nature weaves all together: the humid haze of the Italian summer evening, the vibrant sun that dances indiscriminately over and warms foliage and bodies, and the lovers.
However, scholars have determined that the original painting was cut in two, the left hand side showing a river god in a landscape is now in a private collection. This might account for the enigmatic nature of the Musée Fabre’s painting and its narrative, where a series of figures, seemingly lost in worlds of private pleasure, are both entangled in the richly described landscape yet isolated from each other.