Called Confirmation, the painting is part of The Seven Sacraments series and could fetch £19 million as it is regarded as the artist’s most important commission.
It dates back to around 1637 to 1640 and epitomises Poussin’s technique of visual expression, intense emotion and harmony of design based on abstract form.
The painting has had a profound impact on British art over the last 240 years and I sincerely hope a buyer comes forward to save it for the nation
Arts minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Arts minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, who imposed the temporary bar on the painting which has been in the UK for more than 240 years, said: “The unprecedented Seven Sacraments series is an example of Nicolas Poussin’s extraordinary inventiveness and Confirmation stands out as the most sophisticated work in the commission.
“The painting has had a profound impact on British art over the last 240 years and I sincerely hope a buyer comes forward to save it for the nation.”
The decision on the export licence application has been deferred until January 9 and this could be pushed back to July 9 2023 if there is a serious pledge to match the asking price.
Confirmation has been declared a painting of outstanding significance to the study of Poussin’s work and its influence on British art and culture by the reviewing committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest.
Committee member Christopher Baker said: “Nicolas Poussin’s cycle of paintings each depicting one of the Seven Sacraments of the Church was revolutionary: no artist had treated the theme in this way before.
“He transports you to the early years of Christianity and depicts solemn rites with a profound knowledge of archaeology and a supreme artistic sensitivity.
“Confirmation is arguably the most accomplished in the sequence: it shows children quietly affirming their faith before a priest, watched by their families, with every gesture and glance carefully calibrated.
“Such a moving painting would represent a powerful addition to the artist’s works in UK collections.”
The National Gallery website says Poussin was born at Les Andelys in Normandy in 1594 and first trained in Rouen. He later worked in Rome and died there in 1665.
No details have been given of who currently owns the painting.