Sébastien Bourdon was one of the twelve founding members of the Royal Academy of Painting and his Finding of Moses embodies the principles of seventeenth-century academic art, which showed the influence of Poussin.
The book of Exodus (2:5) recounts how a Hebrew woman saved her infant son from Pharoah's massacre of Hebrew children by placing him in a basket on the Nile. Pharoah's daughter, while bathing on the banks of the river, found the child, adopted him, and named him Moses. In Bourdon's composition, Pharoah's daughter, dressed in yellow, occupies the central vertical axis of the painting, supported on her left by her ladies in waiting. The figures form a frieze, like antique sculptures, across the foreground plane. They are dressed according to the seventeenth-century concept of ancient costume and placed in a fanciful setting with Egyptian palm trees.
The careful division of the composition into three parallel planes of space recalls the principles of symmetry and order propounded by the Academy. The dignified gestures -- especially that of the princess -- and expressions of the figures tell the story in a way considered appropriate to the event, but the work is also enlivened by vivid color and clarifying light. Bourdon based his composition on earlier works of the same subject by Poussin.
Marks and Labels
Possibly Adriaen Paets II [1657-1712], Rotterdam; possibly (his sale, Rotterdam, 26 April 1713, no. 19). Possibly François Antoine Robit [c. 1752-1815], Paris; (exhibition and sale, including Robit collection, by private contract, Mr. [Michael] Bryan's Gallery, London, 6 November 1801 and following days [exhibition closed 31 May 1802], no. 44). Arthur L. Nicholson, London and Llandaff House, Surrey, by 1937 until at least 1939. (Paul Drey, New York); sold 1948 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- Possibly [exhibition of ancient and modern paintings], Edward Savage's Columbian Gallery, New York, 1802, no. 4.
- Chefs d'Oeuvre de l'Art français, Palais National des Arts, Paris, 1937, no. 65.
- Rétrospective d'Art: Peinture, Sculpture, Tapisserie, Gravure, Art Japonais; Grande Saison Internatinale de l'Eau, Liège, 1939, no. 24, repro.
- A Group of Old Master Paintings, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, 1948, no cat.
- Possibly California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1948.
- France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-Century French Paintings in American Collections, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, 1982, no. 11, repro.
- Sébastien Bourdon: 1616-1671, Pavillon du Musée Fabre, Montpellier; Galerie de l'Ancienne Douane, Strasbourg, 2000-2001, no. 170, repro.
- The Splendor of Ruins in French Landscape Painting 1630-1800, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2005, no. 9, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 40, no. 11, repro.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. French Paintings of the 16th-18th Centuries in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Four in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 22, color repro.
- Gottesman, Rita Susswein. "New York's First Major Art Show as Reviewed by its First Newspaper Critic in 1802 and 1803." New York Historical Society Quarterly. vol. 43 (July 1959): 289-305, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 340, repro.
- Rosenberg, Pierre. "Quelques tableaux inédits du XVIIe siècle français par Jacques Stella, Charles Mellin, Jean Tassel et Sébastien Bourdon." Art de France 4 (1964): 299, note 14.
- Thuillier, Jacques, and Albert Châtelet. French Painting from Le Nain to Fragonard. Geneva, 1964: 76, repro. 78.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 19.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 12, repro.
- Fowle, Geraldine Elizabeth. "The Biblical Paintings of Sébastien Bourdon." 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1970: 1:92-97, 2:no. 5.
- Rosenberg, Pierre, and Thuillier, Jacques. "The Finding of Moses by La Hyre." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 49, no. 2 (1970): 31 note 12.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 44, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 423, color repro.
- Bjurström, Per. French Drawings: Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Stockholm, 1976: under no. 173, note 3.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 289-290, fig. 257.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 317, no. 419, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 66, repro.
- Wright, Christopher. The French Painters of the Seventeenth Century. New York, 1985: pl. 9.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 165, repro.
- Merot, Alain. French Painting in the Seventeenth Century. New Haven and London, 1995: 139, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 174, no. 135, color repro.
- Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 8, 44-48, color repro.