Chamagne 1600 – 1682 Rome
Landscape with Argus Guarding Io
oil on copper
7 ⅝ x 10 ⅛ inches
19.4 x 25.7 cm
Lent by a private collection, Connecticut
The French artist Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) was the greatest classical landscape painter of the 17th century and one of the greatest of all time. He raised the status of landscape painting to that of history painting in the way he used the landscape to convey a mood appropriate to the subject represented by the figures and staffage. He spent the greater part of his working life in Rome. His paintings and drawings are the most famously evocative renderings of the Roman campagna, which left a lasting impression on visitors and artists down the centuries.
This attractive little picture, signed and dated 1646, was only discovered in fairly recent times and corresponds to a drawing in the so called Liber Veritatis (British Museum, 1957,1214.104; fig. 1), a book of finished drawings made by Claude as a protection against forgers and as a comprehensive record of his compositions to which he could easily refer. As Marcel Rothlisberger has pointed out, the present work ties in with two other paintings from the mid-1640s, one in the collection of Lord Methuen, the other in oval format on copper in an unknown location (see Marcel George Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain, The Paintings, New York, 1979, figs. 194 and 195).
A particularly attractive feature is the rocky cascade where the falling water is rendered with exceptional delicacy and sense of texture. Such waterfalls appear rarely in Claude and occasionally in the landscapes of a Flemish predecessor Paul Bril, who like Claude made his career in Rome. The intimacy of the present painting was more common in Claude’s work of the previous decade, for example a small landscape painted on copper, in octagonal format, from the mid-1630s formerly in the collection of the Earl of Haddington showing a cowherd by a lake with a mill (Art Gallery of New South Wales, inv. 208.1992; fig. 2). Such paintings reflect the tradition of intimate landscape developed by the German artist Adam Elsheimer in Rome in the first decade of the 17th century and whose example influenced many northern expatriate landscapists including Claude himself. In the present painting the massive tree behind the watering cattle closes off the foreground like a private enclave, allowing only vignettes of the waterfall and the open fields and mountains beyond. The copper medium enriches and warms the shadows giving a feeling of cosiness!
Claude’s large corpus of landscape drawings, many of which were made partially or wholly out of doors, are the first significant body of plein air work in western European art, the start of a tradition that culminated in Monet and the Impressioinists. It was once assumed that a few of Claude’s more intimate paintings were painted out of doors from the motif, and his biographers mention his habit of making oil sketches in the Roman campagna, especially at the break of day. None of these appear to have survived and it is highly unlikely that any of his smaller yet more finished paintings were executed in this manner. Nevertheless the present example has an exceptional spontaneity, which at least conveys the feeling of a outdoor record of a particular place, even though it must be imaginary and painted in the studio. ❖
engraved ‘CLA DE GILLE INV / ROME 1646’, on reverse
with Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York
Private collection, United States
Marcel George Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain, The Drawings, Berkeley, 1968, no. 603 (as lost).
Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London, 1978, no. 98, p. 114 (as location unknown).
Marcel George Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain, The Paintings, New York, 1979, no. LV98, p. 260 (as location unknown).
Marcel George Roethlisberger, ‘From Goffredo Wals to the Beginnings of Claude Lorrain’, Artibus et Historiae, 1995, vol. 16 no. 32, p. 33.