Bio: Claude Lorrain

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Claude Lorrain was French painter who ranks up with Nicolas Poussin as one of the great masters of 17th-century ideal-landscape painting. 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 in pastoral or antique dress. Claude's particular contribution to the ideal landscape was his masterly treatment of light. From his early paintings, which have strong, dramatic lighting effects, to his later ones, which are softly drenched with limpid light, he was unsurpassed as a luminist.

Claude, 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). He 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. His principal teacher was the Italian painter Agostino Tassi, who tutored him in the elements of landscape, seascape, and perspective. He was also influenced by the German painter Adam Elsheimer, whose strong lighting Claude adapted and refined, and by the Italian painters Annibale Carracci and Domenichino, whose monumental landscapes led him to enlarge his scale.

Claude's gradual stylistic evolution falls into three main periods. His early landscapes often featured slanting light and employed other experimental lighting effects. He also produced idealized scenes of seaports, usually picturing ships at anchor in a harbor flanked by palaces. In Harbor Scene (1634, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) he shows the sun on the horizon, and characteristically uses the sun to give the painting depth. To guard against forgeries of his work that began cropping up in the 1630s, Claude began compiling his Liber Veritatis (Latin for “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. After 1640 his 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, although Claude continued to work in his prior mode, some of his works showed a tendency toward a more visionary, symbolic style, with a color range of cool, silvery tones and a renewed use of dramatic lighting.

Claude died in Rome on November 23, 1682. His art 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 and was inspired by his compositions.

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