Claude Lorrain (Gellée) (1600/05–1682)

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CLAUDE LORRAIN (GELLÉE) (1600/051682), French painter, draftsman, and printmaker, active in Italy; recognized as one of the greatest landscape painters of the Western tradition. Claude Gelléecalled le Lorrain, Claudio Lorenese, Claude Lorrain, or simply Claudeinfused the early sixteenth-century Venetian pastoral with his direct studies from nature, resulting in depictions of an ideal world where man and nature are integrated into a perfected balance harmonized by subtle effects of light. His contribution was critical to the development of Western landscape. He was so successful during his lifetime that he became one of the most expensive and highly sought-after painters in Rome, with innumerable commissions from members of the papal court, the city's international community of diplomats and expatriate aristocrats, wealthy travelers to Italy, and royal courts across Europe.

After Claude's parents died in 1612, he may have been sent from what was then the independent duchy of Lorraine to Freiburg-im-Breisgau to live with an older brother, who was probably his first teacher. It is more certain that he traveled to Italy with an older relative, arriving in Rome as early as 1617. Claude studied with German landscape painter Goffredo Wals (c. 1590/951638/40) inNaples for two years sometime between 1618 and 1622, after which he returned to Rome and completed his training with Italian landscape painter and decorative artist Agostino Tassi (c. 15801644). Except for a brief return to Lorraine (16251627)where he worked with the court painter Claude Déruet (c. 15881660) in the ducal palace at the capital of Nancyand probable trips to other parts of Italy, he remained in Rome for the rest of his life. He became a member of the Accademia di San Luca in 1633, was offered (but declined) the post of "first rector" in 1654, and accepted the request to be in charge of all resident foreign members in 1669.

One of the key elements of Claude's success with landscape was undeniably linked to his brilliance as a draftsman, which is revealed in more than a thousand extant drawings. During the 1630s and early 1640s, he often intentionally left his studio in order to go into the countryside and draw directly after nature, one of the first landscape artists known to have done so. In the keenly observed studies he made during these outings, he recorded animals, individual elements of foliage, rock formations, and the effects of light and shade in rapidly sketched bucolic scenes (as in Pine Forest, late 1630s, Teylers Museum, Haarlem). They clearly provided the raw material for more fully developed compositions done later in his atelier.

An ever-increasing number of forgeries of Claude's work as early as the 1630s attest to his rapidly growing reputation. His response to this threat was to record the composition of each painting he made for the rest of his life in a highly finished drawing that he placed into what he referred to as his Liber veritatis (Book of truth), his own very personalized form of copyright. Inscriptions on the versos of these sheets often indicated the client for whom the work was made and, for the later works, the date. This group of drawings, often considered the pinnacle of Claude's draftsmanship, remained nearly intact and protected from light until the middle of the last century. Because of their rare state of preservation, combined with the artist's natural talent, these are regarded as among the most extraordinary European drawings of the seventeenth century that have been handed down to us. Claude's Pastoral Landscape of 1644 (L.V. 85, British Museum, London), a record of a painting made for an unknown Roman client (now in the Prado, Madrid), reveals aspects of the essence of Claude's classicism: open, fluid designs with low horizon lines and architectural groupings or a variety of vegetation to mark one's visual progress through the expanse of the juxtaposed diagonal planes of land or small winding rivers that gently recede into the distance.

Claude explored the potential of printmaking in two distinct periods of his career: 16261641 and 16511663. Not surprisingly, he chose the painter's medium of etching, for, unlike the arduous manner of engraving that was often left to specialists, etching enabled him to draw on the copper-plate in a manner akin to using a pen on paper. More than forty prints, such as his Goatherd, 1663 (Mannocci 44, second state, British Museum, London), where every stroke of the etching needle contributed to the atmospheric whole, provide eloquent testimony to Claude's high level of success. These replicable records of his work also ensured that his new ideal and classicizing visual language spread swiftly to artists, amateurs, and collectors across Europe throughout his career.

Fortunately, more than 250 of Claude's paintings have survived. One of his most elegant and important late canvases, painted in 1675 for Prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, his principal patron during his later years, is View of Carthage with Dido and Aeneas (Hamburger Kunsthalle), which demonstrates Claude's pivotal role in the history of seascapes and coastal scenes. It is also an excellent illustration of how his marvelous use of light both unifies a composition and imbues it with emotion. This painting also reveals how Claude increasingly varied his most common theme of shepherds tending their flocks with scenes from mythology, history, and religion in order to elevate the significance of the genre of landscape and to broaden the appeal of his work.

Claude's distinguished contribution to humanity's ongoing visual interpretation of its place in the natural world made him the most influential landscape painter in Western art. It is impossible to imagine the work of such later landscapists as Claude-Joseph Vernet (17141789), Thomas Gainsborough (17271788), John Constable (17761837), J. M. W. Turner (17751851),Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (17961875), or Caspar David Friedrich (17741840) without the precedent of his paintings, drawings, and prints, which conveyed the ideal beauty and grandeur of nature suffused with the infinite mysteries of light. It remains a legacy that artists continue to confront today.

See also Gainsborough, Thomas ; Lorraine, Duchy of ; Painting ; Prints and Popular Imagery ; Rome, Art in .


Askew, Pamela, ed. Claude Lorrain, 16001682: A Symposium. Center for the Advanced Study of the Visual Arts Symposium Series III, National Gallery of Art Studies in the History of Art, vol. 14. Washington, D.C., 1982.

Bjurström, Per. Claude Lorrain: Sketchbook Owned by the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Stockholm, 1984.

Haus der Kunst. Im Licht von Claude Lorrain. Exhibition catalogue by Marcel Roethlisberger. Munich, 1983.

Kitson, Michael. Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis. London, 1978.

Lagerlöf, Margaretha Rossholm. Ideal Landscape: Annibale Carracci, Nicolas Poussin, and Claude Lorrain. Translated by Nancy Adler. New Haven and London, 1990.

Mannocci, Lino. The Etchings of Claude Lorrain. New Haven and London, 1988.

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy. Turner et le Lorrain. Exhibition catalogue by Ian Warrell. Nancy and Paris, 2002.

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy, and French Academy in Rome. Claude Gellée et les peintres lorrains en Italie au XVIIe siècle. Exhibition catalogue. Jacques Thuillier and Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel, eds. Nancy and Rome, 1982.

National Gallery. Claude: The Poetic Landscape. Exhibition catalogue by Humphrey Wine. London, 1994.

National Gallery of Art and Galeries nationale du Grand Palais. Claude Lorrain, 16001682. Exhibition catalogue by H. Diane Russell. Washington, D.C., and Paris, 1982.

Roethlisberger, Marcel. Claude Lorrain: The Drawings. 2 vols. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968.

. Claude Lorrain: The Paintings. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1961; reprinted New York, 1981.

Alvin L. Clark, Jr.

Claude Lorrain

views updated May 18 2018

Claude Lorrain

The French landscape painter, draftsman, and etcher Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) was regarded as the prince of landscape painters until the days of impressionism in the mid-19th century.

Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin were the most distinguished exponents of the French classical baroque style, though fulfilling antithetically expressive ends within the theoretical precepts established by the French for painters from the middle of the 17th century. Whereas Poussin was interested in rendering the archeologically precise and imposing monumentality of imperial Rome objectively, Lorrain preferred to depict the romantic deserted ruins in a rolling countryside. To Lorrain's admirers, his paintings remain the visual counterpart of the profound sentiment of the beauty of the natural world found in the Eclogues and Georgics of the ancient Roman poet Virgil. Lorrain, however, largely deemphasized the role of man in nature in order to enhance the presence and play of cosmic forces, though classical tradition precluded his unbalancing the two to any pronounced degree. If Poussin's art is the last phase of rational formalism in the history of landscape painting, Lorrain's can be considered the first in the long development of autonomous pictorialism leading to the 19th-century romantics and impressionists. A synthesis of the divergent artistic messages of Poussin the scholar and Lorrain the poet might be said to have been reached in the landscape art of Paul Cézanne, where the poetic content of nature is unified within the formal elements of classical composition.

Claude Lorrain was born Claude Gellée in the village of Chamagne near Nancy. Orphaned at about the age of 12, he moved to Freiburg im Breisgau to live with his brother, who apparently was equipped to teach him engraving. In 1613 he set off with another relative, a dealer in lace, for Rome, where, because of the talent common to many Lorrainers, he found employment as a pastry cook in the house of the landscape painter Agostino Tassi. The position of apprentice soon replaced that of cook, the master teaching the young boy the rudiments of painting.

About 1623 Lorrain went to Naples, where he studied for a short time with the Flemish artist Goffredo Wals. The impression of the Gulf of Naples from Sorrento to Pozzuoli and the islands of Capri and Ischia was overwhelming and indelibly imprinted upon his memory, for reminiscences of these awesome views of water, earth, sky, and light recurred in his art until the end of his life. In 1625 he returned to Nancy, where he briefly assisted Claude Deruet by executing the architectural backgrounds to the latter's ceiling paintings for the Carmelite church (now destroyed). He then made his way back to Rome—sketching all the way. No record reveals Lorrain's ever leaving Rome again, and he lived out his life quietly and industriously as a respected member of the colony of foreign artists, though some scholars believe the vividness of the Neapolitan recollections in his paintings implies the necessity of his having returned to Naples and its environs.

After the 1630s his reputation as a landscape painter was firmly established. By the 1640s he counted among his clients the French ambassador Philippe de Béthune, cardinals Bentivoglio and Crescenzio, and Pope Urban VIII. As a clue to the degree of his early success, the French artist Sébastien Bourdon in 1634 imitated Lorrain's style and passed the work off as an original. Because copyists and imitators of his style abounded, he created, to offset this plagiarizing tendency by contemporaries, a catalog of 200 drawings of his original compositions and entitled it Liber veritatis.

Artistic Style

This visual record, as well as all other authenticated works by the artist, reveals relatively little change in Lorrain's style from his early to his late period. The structural formula of composition, transmitted through Tassi, his first teacher, from such late mannerist artists as Paul Brill and Adam Elsheimer, who utilized stage-set structural devices, remains constant in him. He sets his scenes consistently as spatial areas receding from picture plane to infinity. The picture plane is established by placing a mass of dark greenish-brown foliage on both sides of the composition, with usually a tall, feathery tree element on one side, as in The Mill (1631). When human activity does occur, as in The Mill, the action takes place quite animatedly in the front area of the middle distance, set upon or against a barge landing, bridge, or farmhouse. This central focus then is systematically reduced by subtly placed flanking motifs, like stage flats, creating wings, or coulisses, which carry the eye to the far distance of mountains, rivers, or the rolling Roman campagna, as in Apollo Guarding the Herds of Admetus (1654).

The real subject of Lorrain's work is not, however, the forms of nature or the activities of men, but rather the animating power of light, emanating in varied intensities, depending upon the time of day chosen for the theme, playing upon the material realm and transforming it into a peculiar mood impression.

Chiaroscuro, or the play of patterns of dark and light contrasts, is the method Lorrain generally uses in drawing and painting. Modulation plays down the violence of blindingly dramatic sun and moon effects of such a mannerist precursor as Elsheimer. His drawings, though great in variety, uniformly reveal a preoccupation with values of light and dark rather than with color. As with his paintings, the magic of mood, the veiling of earth and man in an infinite variety of gently controlled radiation and reflection of light which issues from a known but unobtrusive source, is the subject.

Lorrain's influence was both catalytic and mediating of divergent national talents. In his art he melded the northern emotive response to nature, such as that found in the works of the German Albrecht Altdorfer and the Fleming Joachim Patinir, with the more palpable control of the southern temperament. In this sense his contribution to art is more universal than that of his habitually more formalistic contemporary and countryman Poussin.

Further Reading

A scholarly and interesting summary in English of all previous studies of Claude is Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Drawings (2 vols., 1968). Röthlisberger's Claude Lorrain: The Paintings (2 vols., 1961) is also valuable. Roger Fry's essay on Claude in his Vision and Design (1920) is rich in esthetic and philosophical wisdom and refutes the literary attacks on the artist in John Ruskin's Modern Painters (5 vols., 1846-1860). See also Martin Davies's detailed discussion of the Liber veritatis in French School (1946-1950; 2d ed. 1957), published by the National Gallery in London. There is a discussion of Claude and the general historical period in Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1953).

Additional Sources

Russell, H. Diane (Helen Diane), Claude Lorrain, 1600-1682, Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1982. □

Claude Lorrain

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Claude Lorrain (c.1604–82) ( Claude Gellée) French landscape painter, the most influential ideal landscapist. After settling in Rome (1627), he developed a style that combined poetic idealism inspired by antique models and his own observations. His mature style evolved between 1640 and 1660, when he explored the natural play of light on different textures. Turner was among those to absorb his ideas, and he inspired the style known as picturesque.;;

Lorrain, Claude

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