Two Framed, Evocative Landscapes after Poussin
Two of Melville’s engravings after Nicolas Poussin survive today in Melville’s own frames. One was donated to the Berkshire Athenaeum by Herman’s granddaughter Eleanor Melville Metcalf. The other is being preserved by direct descendants of Eleanor’s sister Jeanette Ogden Chapin. One is a steel engraving from 1846, the other a mezzotint from 1786. Each print reproduced a well-known painting from a public collection. Melville saw the original painting from which each print was made during his trip to England and the Continent in 1849—one at the Louvre in Paris, the other at the National Gallery in London. Before Melville saw any original paintings by Poussin with his own eyes, however, he would have seen several through the words of William Hazlitt.
One painting in particular, Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun (fig. 1 below), he would have known only through Hazlitt’s words. Commissioned by a French collector in 1658, the painting remained in Paris until 1743, when it was sold to the first in a series of English collectors eventually including Sir Joshua Reynolds, the last of whom sold it to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1924. Hazlitt’s “On a Landscape of Nicolas Poussin” had appeared in the first London edition of his Table-Talk essays one century earlier, in 1824. Herman Melville was able to read Hazlitt’s essay in 1846 because he inherited a copy of the first American edition of Table-Talk, published in New York in 1845, from his brother Gansevoort, who had suddenly died in London in 1846 (Sealts no. 266a).