Nicolas Poussin, French, 1594-1665
Title: Acis and Galatea
Date: 1627-1628
Medium: Oil on canvas
98 x 137 cm
Credit Line: Bequeathed, Sir Hugh Lane, 1918
Object Number: NGI.814
DescriptionPoussin moved to Rome in 1624, where he became closely associated with the gifted antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo and his intellectual circle. Well versed in classical literature, philosophy and art, Poussin went on to develop a distinct poetic style of history painting. this arcadian scene was inspired by a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book XIII). In the foreground, the lovers Acis and Galatea embrace, as tritons and nereids frolic in the waves. Behind them, the one-eyed giant Polyphemus sits on a promontory overlooking the sea. He plays a love song to Galatea on the syrinx. Winged amorini hold drapery to shield the ill-fated couple from his view. In Ovid’s poem, Polyphemus, whose ardour for Galatea was unrequited, hurled a rock at Acis in a jealous rage and killed him. While the mood in the foreground of the painting is playful and sensual, the isolated figure of Polyphemus and the dark clouds overhead convey a sense of pathos and foreboding.

March 2016

ProvenanceIn England from 18th Century; (?) Phillips, London, 16 February 1750, Bragge sale, no. 31; (?) Phillips, London, 17 March 1821, John Knight sale, lot 24; collection of the Earl of Spencer, Althorp House by 1831; by descent; sold to Sir John Leslie, Castle Leslie, Co. Monaghan, 1856; by descent; Sir Hugh Lane; bequeathed, Sir Hugh Lane, 1918
Exhibition HistoryPictures by Old Masters Given and Bequeathed to the National Gallery of Ireland by the Late Sir Hugh Lane, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1918

Exhibition of French Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London; City Art Gallery, Manchester, 1932

Chefs d'oeuvre de l'art francais, Palais National des Arts, Paris, 1937

Quatre siècles d'art francais: Hommage à la femme, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, March - May 1953

Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, October - December 1964

W.B. Yeats, A Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1965

Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665, Villa Medici, Rome; Stadtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, 1977-1978

Poussin: Sacraments and Bacchanals, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1981

Le Classicisme Français: Masterpieces of French 17th Century Painting, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1985

Poussin, The Early Years in Rome, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1988

From Titian to Delacroix: Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Ireland, Yokohama Sogo Museum of Art, Yokohama, 25 August - 17 October 1993; Chiba Sogo Museum of Art, Chiba, 10 November - 20 December 1993; Prefectural Museum of Art, Yamaguchi, 5 January - 20 February 1994; Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 25 February - 10 April 1994; Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, 14 April - 24 May 1994

European Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Ireland, National Gallery, Canberra, 25 June 1994 - 3 October 1994; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Adelaide, 21 October 1994 - 15 January 1995

Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 27 September 1994 - 2 January 1995; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 19 January - 9 April 1995

Primi Anni Romani, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 26 November 1998 - 1 March 1999

Von Poussin bis Monet. Die Farben Frankreichs, The Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen, 22 March - 6 September 2015; Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg, 10 October 2015 - 17 January 2016
Label TextThis painting depicts scenes from a mythological story told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (ad 8). The lovers Acis and Galatea embrace, while tritons and nereids play in the waves nearby. Putti shield the couple from Polyphemus (a one eyed giant) who sits on a promontory playing a syrinx. According to Ovid, Polyphemus became angry when Galatea did not reciprocate his love. He hurled a rock at Acis and killed him. Poussin presents the oblivious lovers in a golden light, but dark clouds hint at the tragedy to come.