The Athenian general, Phocion, was unjustly executed for treason in the 4th century BC, and his body burnt on the borders of the Athenian state. His wife is shown secretly collecting and illegally hiding his ashes. In one of his most masterly ordered landscapes Poussin offsets the classical city’s calm but severe grandeur against the tense foreground in which the widow’s companion appears to sense the spying youth hidden in the nearby grove. Nature may appear restrained but brooding crags remind us of her immensity and add to this heroic landscape. Poussin’s austere paintings appealed to the learned connoisseurs for whom he painted. This work was commissioned by a wealthy French silk merchant along with its companion showing Phocion’s body being carried out of Athens


  • Title: Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion
  • Creator: Nicolas Poussin
  • Date Created: 1648
  • Physical Dimensions: w1785 x h1165 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: Poussin was largely responsible for a revival in classicism, through his study and admiration for the art and literature of antiquity, and for artists such as Raphael and Carracci. Inspired by Leonardo’s treatise on painting, he wrote his own theories of art which became the basis of neo-classicism in France. His rigidly constructed landscapes also inspired the artist Cezanne, who became one of the pioneers of Modernism. The themes of Poussin’s works, even those privately commissioned, were usually of his own choice. He was a man of great intellect and his paintings frequently carry a moral or philosophical message. The subject of 'Landscape with the ashes of Phocion' was one of particular significance for the artist. He shared Phocion’s philosophy of Stoicism which originated in the Hellenistic world and was revived in the 16th century. This system of thought teaches that virtue is the key to personal moral survival and is the only quality that man has control over. The ideal of inner peace is represented in his paintings in the quiet harmony of his settings and the clarity, logic and order of his compositions.
  • Additional artwork information: Phocion, c402-318 BC, was an Athenian general and politician, known as Phocion “the Good”. He was greatly admired for his honesty and virtue and also for the simple, frugal way he lived his life. In his 84th year, however, he was falsely accused of treason and executed by his political enemies. As a traitor, he was denied a burial in Athens and so the cremation of his body took place outside the boundaries of the city.'The Funeral of Phocion', of which versions exist in Cardiff, Paris and Connecticut, shows his body being ignominiously removed from the city of Athens to Megara for cremation. The Walker Art Gallery's painting shows the second part of the story, where his remains are collected in secret by his widow. This painting was the subject of an ‘Artwork Highlight’ talk at the Walker Art Gallery in 2009. To read the notes from this talk please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=2&id=370
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased from the Earl of Derby with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and other benefactors in 1983

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