Fitzwilliam steps up bid to buy Poussin piece by sending Extreme Unction to National Gallery

By Culture24 Reporter | 20 September 2012
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An image of an Old Master oil painting of various robed biblical figures helping a figure on a deathbed
Nicolas Poussin, Extreme Unction (1638-1640)© Jerry Hardman-Jones
In a bid to accelerate the fundraising campaign to buy Extreme Unction, the 17th century Poussin masterpiece painted as one of the Seven Sacraments in Rome, Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum has made the exquisite work more tangible by putting it on display at the National Gallery.

Organisers praised the impressive generosity of the public during the first few weeks of the appeal, totalling £550,000 given by more than 2,250 donors. The Old Master painting of a dying man’s oily anointment is now on show in Room 1 of the gallery.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our supporters and friends for this remarkable response,” said David Scrase, the Acting Director of the Fitzwilliam, which has until November to raise almost £3.9 million.

“It shows a real desire to keep this exceptional and beautiful painting in the country.

"Potentially the most important Old Master to be acquired by the Fitzwilliam in nearly a century, Extreme Unction would revolutionise the collections at the museum, creating a national treasure for posterity.

“The Fitzwilliam has ambitious plans to create public programmes around the themes of the painting, for a wide public of all ages and backgrounds.”

Stephen Deuchar, the Director of the Art Fund, called the Fitzwilliam the “perfect home” for the “masterpiece of French classicism”.

“The National Gallery’s support for the campaign and display of the painting emphasises its national importance, and I think anyone who goes to see this spellbinding work whilst it’s in London will feel compelled to support the campaign,” he added.

The National Gallery has an understandably keen interest in preserving Old Master works.

“There is no greater work by Poussin than Extreme Unction among the very many by him in the national collection,” said its Director, Dr Nicholas Penn.y

“It is not controversial to claim that Poussin painted nothing greater than this picture.

“It epitomises his special genius for completely legible narrative and memorable clarity of composition.

“It is quite extraordinary in illustrating no particular people, but a timeless and anonymous episode of universal significance: solemn grief, tense solace, dignity and hope competing with despair.

“We hope the support for the acquisition will gain the momentum needed.”

  • On display until November 11. Visit www.artfund.org/poussin to donate. Cheques, made payable to the Fitzwilliam Museum Development Trust, can be sent to The Development Office, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RB. Organisations should contact the museum Development Officer, Sue Rhodes, on 01223 332939.
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