Charles Poerson - Titus at the Massacre at Jerusalem
Titus at the Massacre at Jerusalem
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Charles Poerson (Vic-sur-Seille 1609 - Paris 1667)

He was a pupil of Vouet, probably being in his studio from around 1632 until 1638. Much of his work is destroyed or lost, and there are few firm dates in his oeuvre. It is, however, clear that his early work was deeply influenced by that of Vouet. He adopted the contrapposto figures of the latter, his sense of movement, play of hands and draperies, and the dynamic quality characteristic of his compositions. Indeed, Poërson seems sometimes to have exaggerated these qualities, as in the crowded composition St Peter Preaching in Jerusalem (Paris, Notre-Dame; sketch or replica, Los Angeles, CA, Co. Mus. A.). This signed and dated work was the May of Notre-Dame (the picture commissioned annually by the Paris Goldsmiths’ Corporation for the Cathedral) in 1642, and the prestigious commission indicates the position that the young artist had already attained. In 1653 he executed another May, St Paul in Malta (untraced).

It is known that in the 1630s Charles Poërson assisted Vouet on the decoration of the Galerie des Hommes Illustres (destr.) in the Palais Cardinal (now Palais Royal), Paris, and that in the 1650s he collaborated on Eustache Le Sueur’s décor for Anne of Austria’s Salle de Bains (destr.) at the Palais du Louvre. In addition, he painted scenes from the Life of the Virgin (untraced) for Anne of Austria’s chapel at the Palais Royal and, according to Sauval, undertook a decorative scheme (destr.) at the Hôtel Amelot de Bisseul, Paris. He received numerous commissions for religious pictures from the churches and religious houses of Paris and the surrounding region, among them a series on the Life of St Louis (ex-Lyon Cathedral, c. 1820) for the Hôpital des Quinze-Vingt, Paris.

One of Poërson’s most important commissions was for cartoons for tapestries on the theme of the Life of the Virgin. The tapestries (Strasbourg Cathedral) were woven between 1638 and 1657. Three of the compositions are attributable to Philippe de Champaigne and Jacques Stella, but the scenes for which paintings are preserved in the Musée des Beaux-Arts at Arras all seem to be by Poërson. These works show his ability, learnt from Vouet, to handle large-scale compositions and to set his figures within vast spaces articulated with architecture. A study for a Pietà (England, priv. col., see French Oil Sketches from an English Collection, exh. cat., Houston, TX, Mus. F.A., 1973–5, no. 71) also shows a debt to Vouet but reveals the intense and sensitive side of Poërson’s artistic personality. Two paintings in the manner of Vouet illustrating scenes from the Life of Cincinnatus (Le Mans, Mus. Tessé) have been attributed to Poërson on the basis of an inventory of the Revolutionary period (1789–95). It is, however, difficult to believe that Poërson, whose figures are recognizably heavier and more rounded than those of Vouet, and whose compositions have a greater accumulation of details, could have painted pictures that are quite so close to his former master’s style.

In fact, Poërson was subject to influences other than Vouet’s, and his work displays evidence of increasingly rigorous experiments in classicism: lucid and balanced compositions, clearly defined profiles and rhythmical gestures, as in the Nativity (Paris, Louvre), the Pietà (St-Germain-sur-Ille, nr Rennes, private chapel) and the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Mus.). Other paintings, such as the Rape of the Sabine Women (Paris, Mus. Hébert) and the Judgement of Solomon (Vire, Mus. Mun.), indicate a knowledge of 17th-century Bolognese painting, as well as links with the art of Sébastien Bourdon and the Corneille family. He is also known to have collaborated with Daniel Hallé on a temporary triumphal arch for Louis XIV in 1660. Poërson’s known oeuvre is being expanded by the attribution to him of previously anonymous or miscatalogued works. There are collections of drawings by him in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and the Albertina, Vienna, and many untraced compositions are preserved in contemporary engravings by, among others, Guillaume Chasteau and Charles Simmoneau. In 1651 Poërson entered the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Paris, of which he became rector seven years later.