The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that it has received a gift from Jon and Barbara Landau of an exceptional painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), a French artist who changed the course of European painting and set the terms for subsequent generations of artists. Agony in the Garden, created between 1626–27, is one of only two unanimously accepted works by Poussin executed in oil on copper rather than on canvas, which he used more typically. This important addition to the Department of European Paintings brings The Met's holdings of paintings by Poussin to seven, making it the largest and most comprehensive collection of the artist’s work outside Europe.
“We are thrilled to add this remarkable painting to The Met’s collection,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Poussin has always been part of the Museum’s history—his Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus was purchased as part of The Met’s founding collection in 1871—and this latest addition further cements the Museum’s position as a leader in presenting works by the great classical French painter. It takes passionate connoisseurs like Jon and Barbara Landau to acquire such a momentous work, and we cannot thank them enough for their incredible generosity in gifting this masterpiece to The Met and sharing this important painting forever with the public.”
Stephan Wolohojian, John Pope-Hennessy Curator in Charge of the Department of European Paintings, added: “This ambitious work, having belonged to one of the most important Roman collectors of the 17th century, has been prized from the moment it was painted. This gift gives The Met the only Poussin on copper in a museum collection. We look forward to studying this rare painting further and to sharing it with The Met’s visitors, thanks to the tremendous generosity of Jon and Barbara Landau.”
Jon and Barbara Landau commented: “We have lived with Nicholas Poussin’s Agony in the Garden for the last 22 years, where it has been a glorious daily presence. When it came time to find a new home, our only thought was The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we learned so much about the art we love. We’re thrilled that, although it is no longer ours, the work has been placed in such a perfect location and that as part of the museum-going public, we will always be able to enjoy it.”
Poussin executed Agony in the Garden at a pivotal moment just after arriving in Rome, when he had not yet attained a firm footing in the city’s art world. It would soon enter the collection of Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo, the brother of the antiquarian-connoisseur Cassiano dal Pozzo who would become Poussin’s greatest Roman patron. A Latin inscription written across the back of the work is consistent with the way in which the Dal Pozzo collection was inventoried. The painting had been known through inventories and references by the most illustrious visitors to Rome in the 17th and 18th centuries—but was lost until 1985, when its rediscovery was heralded as a major addition to Poussin's corpus.
In this intimately scaled, jewel-like painting, a zig-zag composition unites two scenes: Christ anticipates his mortal death by crucifixion, while his disciples slumber. The monumentality of the figures in the foreground and the architecture demonstrate Poussin’s fascination with the classical world, while the treatment of light and the cascade of putti come from his interest in Venetian Renaissance painters. As he forged his identity as a major force in European painting, Poussin would continue to emphasize the relationship to antiquity and classical sculpture, leaving an indelible impact on the history of art.
The work is now on view in Gallery 621. More information is available on The Met’s website