Claude Lorrain Biography
Claude Lorrain, French painter, who, like Nicolas Poussin was one of the great masters of 17th-century classical landscape painters. Drawing its inspiration from classical antiquity, this school of painting presents nature as harmonious, serene, and often majestic. Subject matter is taken from Greek, Roman, or biblical sources, and human figures in the landscape are often depicted in pastoral or antique dress. Claude’s particular contribution to the ideal landscape was his masterly treatment of light. From early Lorrain paintings, which have strong, dramatic lighting effects, to his later paintings, which are softly drenched with limpid light, Lorrain was unsurpassed as a illuminist.
Claude Lorrain, whose original name was Claude Gelée or Gellée who was also known by his pseudonym Le Lorrain, or as Claude Lorraine, was born in the duchy of Lorraine (from which his name is derived). Lorrain traveled to Rome before he was 20 years old and, with the exception of one trip back to France from 1625 to 1627, he lived in Rome all his life. Lorrain's principal teacher was the Italian painter Agostino Tassi, who taught him the elements of landscape, seascape, and perspective. Lorrain was also influenced by the German painter Adam Elsheimer, whose strong depiction of light Claude Lorrain adapted and refined, and by the Italian painters Annibale Carracci and Domenichino, whose monumental landscape paintings led him to enlarge his scale.
The gradual evolution of Claude’s style falls into three main periods. In the first, his landscape paintings often featured slanting light and employed other experimental lighting effects. Lorrain also painted idealized scenes of seaports, usually with ships at anchor in a harbour flanked by palaces. In Harbour Scene (1634, Hermitage, St Petersburg) Lorrain shows the sun on the horizon, and characteristically uses the sun to give the painting depth. Forgeries of Lorrain paintings began to appear in the 1630s, and to aid to their identification Claude Lorrain began compiling his Liber Veritatis ("Book of Truth"; British Museum, London) in about 1635. In it he sketched drawings of almost all his paintings, creating a record of his work. In the second phase, which began after 1640, Lorrain paintings became more tranquil, bathed in a warm, even light. Their subject matter is drawn from Classical or biblical sources, as in Landscape: The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah (1648, National Gallery, London). During the 1660s, the third phase, although Claude Lorrain continued to work in his prior mode, some of his paintings showed a tendency towards a more visionary, symbolic style, with a colour range of cool, silvery tones and a renewed use of dramatic lighting.
Claude Lorrain died in Rome on November 23, 1682. Lorrain paintings influenced later Dutch, French, and especially English landscape painters through the middle of the 19th century. J. M. W. Turner was especially indebted to Claude Lorrain and was inspired by his compositions.