Claude Gellée – almost invariably known in English as Claude Lorrain (in French ‘Le Lorrain’), or simply as Claude – was a celebrated painter of light and landscape, whose works present a uniquely-ordered vision of natural beauty. He was born at Chamagne in the duchy of Lorraine, now part of France but at the time of his birth an independent state. He travelled to Rome about 1617/18 and is said to have worked as a pastry cook before training as a painter with Goffredo Wals in Naples and then with Agostino Tassi in Rome.
Apart from a brief trip to Nancy in 1625-6, Claude remained in Rome for the rest of his life. He became a member of the St Luke’s Academy in 1633 and soon established a reputation as a landscape painter. From around 1635 he recorded his paintings in a book of drawings – the Liber veritatis (now in the British Museum) in which he frequently recorded the names of his patrons.
Claude’s landscapes are carefully composed, yet based on an intense response to natural phenomena. He was a renowned draftsman and made numerous drawings during sketching trips in the area around Rome known as the Campagna. In the mid 1630s he also took up etching (though it is not known from whom he learnt the technique) and produced a small oeuvre of landscape prints of an individual and somewhat quirky style less fastidious than his paintings. Nevertheless, etchings such as The cowherd 1636 and [DO17.1962[Harbour scene with rising sun]] 1634 display many familiar motifs from his landscape paintings as well as the deep interest in light and atmosphere that characterise his approach to the genre.
Claude ceased etching altogether between 1640-50 and the greater part of his production in the early part of his career until the mid 1640s was devoted to pastoral landsapes which present an idealised vision of rustic existence played out in settings of ravishing natural beauty. Pastoral landscape, known as the ‘Diamond Claude’ due to its octagonal composition, was painted in 1636 and contains a number of motifs familiar to his other works of the period, including the watermill pictured on the right. With its lakeside setting, the work anticipates the great seaport subjects of Claude’s later years – works that would profoundly influence JMW Turner.
In latter decades his works tended to become larger in scale and treat subjects drawn from mythology, ancient history and the bible. Claude’s vision struck a particular chord with the English, who collected his works with great enthusiasm during the 18th and 19th centuries.