Claude Lorrain was one of the first French painters who have established a highly successful career in Italy. His works are famous for their eeriness yet embodied the true characteristics of French Baroque style of painting. For example, Harbor at Sunset, a well-regarded work during the contemporary times, features a tranquil yet quaint view of the harbor.
Harbor at Sunset begins with a few cargo men carrying a box over their shoulders while the sun is setting down behind them; over the horizon. The backdrop is filled with 17th century ships, Roman buildings and the seemingly endless horizon is cut by a tower and a mountain, which implies a very contemporary use of linear perspective.
As with most of his landscape paintings, Lorrain exhibited his great skill in using light as a poetic device in Harbor at Sunset. The near-dark skies are lit up with the sunset rays of the sun to give a naturalistic representation of the supposed scene. It is said that Lorrain would use a series of methods before he would come up with such nature-inspired sceneries. He would begin with painting the base, drawings and then the application of colors and tones.
With that, this approach helped establish a solid reputation in the field. He soon would gain some followers in Annibale Carracci, Paul Bril and Nicolas Poussin. Today, most of his famous drawings are compiled in his sketchbook called the Book of Truth which he began working on around 1635.
Claude Lorrain, also known as Claude Gellee, was born around 1604 to 1605 in the small town of Chamagne, Vosges. This town is believed to be an enclave of Duchy of Lorraine. He was born to a simple family with his four siblings. However, his parents Jean Gellee and Anne Padose died when he was only 12 years old; thus, leaving him orphaned at a young age.
At the age of 12, he moved in to his brother’s residence in Freiburg. This brother of his, who goes by the name of Jean Gellee, was an artist and he presumably taught the young Lorrain the fundamentals of painting. However, there are also some reports that said Lorrain could have worked as a pastry cook first before he was introduced to painting by his brother.
When he reached the age of 13, he took the opportunity to travel to Italy. He arrived in Rome around 1617 where he worked for a culinary artist. By this time, he would have been probably discovered his talent for the arts because he moved to Naples to join the company of a German artist one year later. This artist is believed to be Goffredo Wals, for whom he apprenticed to from 1619 to 1621. He then went back to Rome to enter the workshop of the emerging Agostino Tassi at the time.
In the beginning of his career in Italy, Lorrain has had a difficult time blending in with the community school probably because he lacked formal training in language and philosophy when he was a kid. Therefore, he was employed as a servant and pastry chef first by Tassi before improving on his painting skills years later.
In Rome, Tassi also served as his painting master who taught him both sketching and oil painting. This stint perhaps went successful because he returned to his birth town by 1625 to pursue advanced training sessions with Claude Deruet. He eventually completed this apprenticeship with Deruet around 1627 and then moved back to Rome to settle in Via Margutta.
Before settling down in Via Margutta, Lorraine travelled and stayed temporarily in Marseilles, Venice and Genoa. He had the chance to observe the natural environment in France, Bavaria and Italy which inspired him to paint several landscapes during the mature years of his career. During the late 1620’s, he met Sandrart who was known for sketching outdoor scenes and particularly inclined to drawing dawn and dusk scenes.
Sandrart’s works would have been an inspiration of Lorrain in painting his earliest paintings such as the Landscape with Cattle and Peasants (1629). He already had a developed style around this time, which helped establish his momentum. His career grew at a steady pace through the sponsorship of the French diplomat in Rome. And for one year, from 1634-35, he worked on the commissions requested by the King of Spain.
It is also around that time when he received another major commission by Cardinal Bentivoglio which truly shaped his future into a more solid one. The cardinal was primarily impressed by the Lorrain’s two landscapes that led him to endorse the painter to Pope Urban VIII. Subsequently, he produced four more paintings in Rome, for the Pope, from 1635 to 1638. This cemented his solid reputation in the Roman guild of painters that he became a highly recommended painter locally and internationally.
Aside from keeping himself busy with his oil paintings, Lorrain found the time to compile his own drawings in a sketchbook which he entitled Liber Veritatis. This three-volume collection features drawings of outdoor scenes that he encountered on his travels. It then became a manual guide for landscape painting students for its marvelous content plus the author’s great display of style and technique.
His travels served him well truly for he was able to avoid painting repetitive scenes. Moving from one place to another allowed him to give fresh and new themes to his audience and patrons. Thus, he remained to be a significant painter during his career even until his death, thanks to his published painting collection.
In 1650, Claude Lorrain re-settled down in Via Paolina. His personal life is as colorful of as his drawings although he never married. He just opted to adopt a child named Agnese in 1658. He also invited the sons of his brothers in 1662 to live in his household.
The French native suffered tremendously from gout which resulted to complications around 1663. During this time, he would have been still capable of finishing the Coast View with Perseus and the Origin of the Coral (1674). He also did some works for Camillo Massimo and Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna. For Colonna, he completed the Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia landscape, which is also his last successful art work.
Claude Lorrain died on November 23, 1682 in his estate in Via Paolina. His interment was held in Trinita dei Monti but his remains were later transferred to San Luigi dei Francesi in 1840.
Lorrain was known for his perfect display of luminous painting technique combined with the French Baroque style. His works made it through the 17th century; deemed as significant and contemporary at the time. No wonder artists like Bril and Elsheimer got interested in studying his works. Famed Italian artists like Carracci and Domenichino would soon follow suit.
This kind of recognition given by Lorrain’s contemporaries was such an honorable gesture. At the time, landscape painting was not considered an eminent area of expertise because patrons were more focused on secular or mythological-themed art works. To begin with landscape painting was not in line with the Renaissance art and another reason was that it had less patronage in Rome due to the efforts of the Vatican to propagate Counter-Reformation ideology.
Therefore, to pursue landscape painting by an artist in Rome and gained significant followers eventually could be concluded as a revolutionary accomplishment. Lorrain put landscape painting on the map of Italian and Western arts. He was the first artist to depict deserted panoramas that were appreciated by forthcoming painters like Salvator Rosa.
According to art theorists, Lorrain’s paintings can be categorized as an “idealized landscape”. Although this kind of painting was pioneered by Annibale Carracci, it was Lorrain who perfected its craft. A large number of his paintings depicted naturalism matched with an idealized view of the subject matter. The images are as perfect as they should be, especially during the mature years of Lorrain’s career when he began placing ancient Roman buildings within the frame, thus his attempt to adapt to the prominent Roman classicism characteristics at the time.
The ancient ruins were accompanied by blue, gray and green shades. The light, coming from the sun, is painted with greater detail to be able to affect drama and poetic meaning. His works looked so inspiring like the sun rays that are supposed to represent hope and another day for the hopeless.
It is known the Claude Lorrain derived all of his concepts and style from nature; thus, the strong naturalism in his style. His method involved a series of preparations. He would begin with painting the canvas with white color and then add another layer of shades with varying thickness. This method enabled him to produce rich-in-color figures, but the prominence of blue hues can be seen easily.
It is also worth mentioning that aqua blue colors were quite expensive during his time. So, this suggests that Lorrain must have enjoyed having a lucrative career. Lastly, the second layer will be added with another layer of thin paint colors in order to add variety to his tones, shades and palette.