Claude Gellée, called Claude Lorrain was neither a great man nor a lofty spirit like Poussin. His genius cannot, however, be denied and he was, like Poussin, a profoundly original inventor within the limitations of a classical ideal. He too spent most of his life in Rome though the art he created was not specifically Italian, but French. For more than two centuries afterwards everyone in France who felt called upon to depict the beauties of nature would think of Lorrain and study his works, whether it be Joseph Vernet in the eighteenth century or Corot in the nineteenth. Outside France it was the same; Lorrain was nowhere more admired than in England. There is an element of mystery in the vocation of this humble and almost illiterate peasant whose knowledge of French and Italian was equally poor, and who used to inscribe on his drawings notes in a strange broken Franco-Italian. This mystery is in some way symbolic of that with which he imbued his pictures, le mystère dans la lumière. This admirable landscapist drew from within himself the greatest number of extraordinary pictures, in which all is beauty, poetry and truth. He sometimes made from nature drawings so beautiful that several have been attributed to Poussin, but in his paintings his imagination dominates, growing in magnitude as he realised his genius. He understood by listening to Poussin and watching him paint that a sort of intellectual background would be an invaluable addition to his own imagination, visions, dreams and reveries.
MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp 06/12/2011 1:55 PM Page 192 The central group presents a contrast of blue in the Angel’s garments and red in Jacob’s cloak. However, the contrast is not unduly exaggerated, but skilfully tempered to suit the colour structure built on a definite basic chord. As compared with Claude’s earlier landscapes, this night scene stands out for the quite exceptional freedom of its handling; and this again makes one think of Poussin’s Four Seasons, also painted by
similar features, both artists having experienced the influence of Elsheimer. This influence is especially obvious in their ways of conveying changing light at different times of day and night, more notably at night, which was depicted by Elsheimer with a degree of perfection which astounded his contemporaries. Also, in studying Claude’s treatment of night subjects, we should remember his strong interest in transitional states of nature. In Genesis, the Angel says to Jacob, “Let me go, for the
Seaport with the Setting Sun 1637 Oil on canvas, 74 x 99 cm Alnwick Castle, Alnwick 40 MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp 06/12/2011 3:12 PM Page 41 41 MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp 06/12/2011 11:14 AM Page 42 Alongside the marked tendency towards extending the stock of subjects beyond the traditional limits, and the increasing variety of genres, 17th-century art demonstrates an unflagging interest in myth. The question of interrelationship of myth and reality will be
European Classicism, both owed a debt to Christian history and Classical mythology, and both shared in the creative development of lofty traditions inherited from the past. The basic idea of Classicism, which is, after all, a form of traditionalism, was precisely the adoption The Archangel Raphael and Tobias 1639-1640 Oil on canvas, 211 x 145 cm Museo del Prado, Madrid 76 MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp 06/12/2011 11:33 AM Page 77 77 MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp
Claude concentrates on those phenomena which are essential to the eternal order of things; he regards sunrises and sunsets as diurnal spectacles from Nature’s perpetual repertory. Rocky Landscape with Seated Figure c. 1640-1645 Black chalk, pen and brown and grey ink brush in pink watercolour, 20.9 x 30.2 cm Teylers Museum, Haarlem 114 MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp 06/12/2011 11:50 AM Page 115 115 MS Le Lorrain_FRE_A ok_23 Nov 2011.qxp 06/12/2011 11:50 AM Page 116