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Claude Lorrain
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Chamagne, France
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
One of the greatest landscape artists of all time, Claude Lorrain was one of the most celebrated artists of the 17th century. He created idealized landscapes suffused with light, often with pastoral details, rather than accurate depictions of specific locations. Excelling in painting, drawing and etching, his work influenced centuries of Western artists, not the least of whom was the English artist J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). A prolific artist, Claude made some 280 paintings (not all of which survive) and some 44 etchings. Some 1300 of his drawings survive. Born Claude Gellée in the village of Chamagne, south of Nancy in the then-independent Duchy of Lorraine, his parents were humble folk. He was probably born in 1605 or 1605. Two early biographies conflict on the details of his young life. One recounts that his parents died when he was twelve and he went to live with a brother in nearby Freiburg-im-Breisgau where he learned drawing. Another says his parents apprenticed him to a pastry chef and that young Claude went to Rome to pursue work as a chef, where he worked for the artist Agostino Tassi (ca. 1579-1644) as a valet and then an assistant. The same author wrote that Claude went to Naples for two years or more beginning around 1618, where he worked for the landscape painter Goffredo Wals (ca. 1696-ca. 1638). At some point he became known as “Claude Lorrain.” The first documentary evidence of Claude’s presence in Italy is a Roman Easter census in 1623, listing him as living on via della Croce and working with Tassi. Claude returned to Lorraine in April 1625 to work on frescoes in Nancy under Claude Deruet (1588-1660), works that have not survived. His contract for this work expired on October 1, 1626 and by Easter 1627 he was back in Rome, living near the Piazza di Spagna. He lived in Italy for the rest of his life, generally staying in the vicinity of Rome. Claude’s first dated painting is from 1629, a landscape, and his earliest dated drawings and prints are from 1630. By this time he had established his practice of sketching while traveling in the countryside, recording ideas he would use in his studio while creating paintings. In 1628 he met the German artist Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688) who accompanied him on these outings; Sandrart was one of Claude’s early biographers. In the 1630s he was well established as a landscape artist. He joined Rome’s artists’ guild, the Accademia de San Luca, in 1633. Sometime around 1635 he began a book of drawings in which he recorded most of his paintings, a practice he continued until his death. Called the Liber Veratatis (Book of Truth), it is now in the British Museum. Many of the original195 drawings in the book identify the date and the patron of the painting in question (five drawings were added after his death). In addition to creating a record of Claude’s works, the book served to authenticate his paintings, which from the mid-1630s were increasingly subject to forgery and imitation. Beginning around 1635 Claude received commissions from King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665) and Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644). He would enjoy papal, royal and aristocratic patronage for the rest of his life. Many of Claude’s etchings were created in the mid-1630s. He recorded the celebration of the election of Ferdinand III (1608-1657) as Holy Roman Emperor in his Fireworks etchings (M. 21-33) of 1637, probably a commission from the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See. Several of Claude’s sketching trips in the 1630s and 1640s were recorded in sketchbooks depicting his visits to locations around Rome, such as Subiaco, Tivoli and Sasso. He became a member of the Congregazione dei Virtuosi, an exclusive organization of Roman artists, in 1643. Although he never married, Claude adopted a girl in the 1650s, Agnese, who may have been his natural daughter; she lived with him for the rest of his life and became one of his heirs. His last three etchings were completed in 1662-63. Around this time a nephew, Jean Gellée, moved into Claude’s house. Claude became very ill in early1663 and made a will on February 1; he recovered and continued working. In 1669 he accepted a position at the Accademia di San Luca under which he was in charge of foreign artists. Another nephew, Joseph Gellée, moved into Claude’s household during the 1670s. The two nephews were also his heirs. He created fewer works in his later years, but finished his last painting in 1682, before he died on November 23. (TNB 5/2013) Selected bibliography: Rand, Richard, Antony Griffiths and Colleen M. Terry. Claude Lorrain: The Painter as Draftsman: Drawings from the British Museum. Exhibition catalog. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Russell, H. Diane. Claude Lorrain, 1600-1682. Exhibition catalog. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1982. Sonnabend, Martin and Jon Whiteley. Claude Lorrain: the Enchanted Landscape. Exhibition catalog. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011.