Le Massacre des Innocents, the masterpiece by Nicolas Poussin, will be the focal point of a major exhibition at the Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille event. From the genesis of the painting to its legacy, the work can be discovered alongside a number of prestigious artworks on loan, including some of the great names of modern and contemporary art: Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Annette Messager. A premiere for Chantilly!

After the Louvre, the Musée Condé at the Domaine du Chantilly holds France’s largest and most impressive collection of paintings and drawings by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). At the heart of this remarkable collection, Le Massacre des Innocents (circa 1627-1628) stands out as much for its illustrious owners (Vincenzo Giustiniani, Lucien Bonaparte, and the Duc d’Aumale), as its radically innovative treatment of the subject matter, inspired by the New Testament. King Herod’s order to execute all children under two years of age in Bethlehem was a subject that was very popular in 17th-century art. Poussin’s painting caused an immediate sensation amongst his contemporaries. The opposition between the anonymous violence and brutality on the part of the executioner and the despair and horror of the mother whose pained expression is unforgettable, as well as the palpable tension of the scene, have continued to resonate today, perhaps accounting for the fact that Poussin’s painting has been copied by many other artists, Fragonard to name just one example, and has inspired many others: Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Henri Cueco, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, etc.

Modern and contemporary art for the first time at Chantilly

This exhibition, on display in the Salle du Jeu de Paume at the Domaine de Chantilly, centres on this masterpiece by Nicolas Poussin. Some fifty or so works highlight the painting’s legacy and influence, with many examples of paintings from modern and contemporary artists.

Visitors can first of all discover the history of the painting and its owners, from the Italian marquis, Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637) who originally commissioned the painting, to the Duc d’Aumale (1822-1897), and its various homes from Rome to Chantilly, via London. The masterpiece, the jewel in the crown of this exhibition, can be seen alongside works by some of the 17th century’s greatest artists: Guido Reni, Pietro Testa, etc., and an early version of the painting, on loan from the Petit Palais (Paris) and a preparatory sketch of the work may also be seen. The exhibition continues with various interpretations of Poussin’s famous work from the 18th to the early 19th century (Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre, Léon Cogniet, etc.).

The last rooms show a selection of modern and contemporary interpretations of Le Massacre des Innocents. These include Pablo Picasso’s The Charnel House (1945), on show in France for the first time since 1954, along with Head II (1949) by Francis Bacon. Works by contemporary artists (Henri Cueco, Jean-Michel Alberola, etc.) who may also be said to have appropriated Poussin’s piece are exhibited within close proximity, evoking the 19th-century display style, typical of the Musée Condé. Finally, works by Annette Messager, Pierre Buraglio and Jérôme Zonder provide audiences with an insight into the power and enduring relevance of Poussin’s masterpiece.

A lavishly illustrated 224-page catalogue published by Flammarion brings together contributions by a number of leading specialists, as well as interviews with numerous contemporary artists who participated in the exhibition.