The National Gallery has acquired Eucharist (c.1637-40), a depiction of the Last Supper, by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1664).

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It has been acquired through a hybrid Acceptance in Lieu deal from the Trustees of the Duke of Rutland’s 2000 Settlement. The amount of tax settled by the acceptance of the painting exceeded the actual liability payable.

It settled more than £7.1m tax so the National Gallery made a contribution of £588,296.40 to settle the balance owed. The purchase was made possible from funds from a legacy from Mrs Martha Doris and Mr Richard Hillman Bailey (2023).

The 15th painting by the French artist to enter the gallery’s collection, Eucharist is part of Poussin’s revolutionary cycle of the Seven Sacraments, painted in the second half of the 1630s, showing the Catholic Sacraments, for his friend and patron, the Roman antiquarian Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588–1657).

The series comprises Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination and Extreme Unction.

Poussin illustrated them with biblical and early Christian imagery. The series was brought to Britain in 1785 where Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding President of the Royal Academy, declared ‘The Poussins are a real national object’.

The series was so successful that a second suite of sacraments was commissioned from Poussin in the late 1640s by the French collector Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609–1694). That second series is on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland.

According to The National Gallery, the decision to depict the seven sacraments was almost unprecedented in painting. The commission speaks to Poussin’s extraordinary formal inventiveness, and to the intellectual circle around Dal Pozzo and its fascination with the history of the early church.

Sacrements series

Six paintings remain from the first series of Sacraments, Penance having been destroyed by fire in 1816. Baptism was acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC in 1939; Ordination by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth in 2011; and Extreme Unction by The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge in 2013.

In January 2023, an export licence was issued for Confirmation, which was sold abroad. Eucharist and Marriage remained in the collection of the trustees of the Duke of Rutland’s 2000 Settlement.

Eucharist is now on show at The National Gallery alongside a new long-term loan of Marriage (c.1637-40) (from the Duke of Rutland’s 2000 Settlement).

Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, acting curator of later Italian, Spanish and French paintings, said: “The National Gallery has one of the greatest collections of Poussin’s paintings in the world. Our collection is comprehensive, comprising early works and late, classical mythologies, landscapes and religious scenes. We were not able, until now, to show any of the Seven Sacraments, the single most important commission of Poussin’s career.

“Acquiring Eucharist not only broadens and deepens our representation of Poussin: it also means that one of the pictures from the most beautiful and important series of paintings in the Western canon now hang on our walls.”