Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
October 11, 2007
Richard Rand Claude Lorrain: The Painter as Draftsman: Drawings from the British Museum Exh. cat. Williamstown, MA and New Haven, CT: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in association with Yale University Press, 2006. 228 pp.; 137 color ills.; 40 b/w ills. $55.00 (0300104804)
Exhibition schedule: Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, October 14, 2006–January 14, 2007; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, February 4–April 29, 2007; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., May 27–August 12, 2007
Claude Lorrain, The Judgment of Paris (ca. 1645). Pen and brown ink with brown wash over black chalk on laid paper; laid down. 18 x 26.2 cm (7 1/16 x 10 5/16 in.). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The superb exhibition Claude Lorrain—The Painter as Draftsman: Drawings from the British Museum could hardly have been more timely. There has not been an exhibition devoted to Claude in the United States since the landmark 1982 retrospective at the National Gallery (H. Diane Russell, Claude Lorrain, 1600–1682, Washington, D.C.: National Gallery, 1982). To formulate the current exhibition, Clark senior curator Richard Rand relied principally on the British Museum, which holds an unparalleled and uniquely comprehensive collection of Claude drawings. Encompassing the Richard Payne Knight collection of some three hundred nature and compositional drawings and Claude’s own Liber Veritatis (the famous graphic compilation of nearly all of his paintings after the mid 1630s), these holdings present the full range of the artist’s draftsmanship. Unlike the 1998 show at Oxford (J. J. L. Whiteley, Claude Lorrain: Drawings from the Collections of the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, London: British Museum, 1998), Rand made the crucial decision to punctuate the exhibition with judiciously selected paintings. This had the benefit of achieving a visually stunning installation, in which related drawings are grouped around a key painting or two, and of presenting Claude’s graphic work in the context of the studio product that guided his highly selective studies of nature. Rand’s installation and catalogue are theme driven and illustrate a compelling thesis on the relation of natural observation and conceptual design in Claude’s approach to landscape.

Unlike previous catalogues, Rand eschews individual entries in favor of extended essays that address the organizing themes of the exhibition, and in which each of the exhibited works is discussed to a greater or lesser degree, with a chronological checklist at the end of the volume. This is a brilliant strategy on several levels. As a relative newcomer to Claude studies, Rand frequently invokes the landmark research of Michael Kitson (Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London: British Museum, 1978; Studies on Claude and Poussin, London: Pindar Press, 2000) and Marcel Röthlisberger (Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961; Claude Lorrain: The Drawings, 2 vols., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). His essays offer a cogent synthesis of scholarship, while the thematic parameters permit a sustained analysis of artistic process that probes beyond the broader studies of Helen Langdon and Humphrey Wine, whose many insights are also acknowledged (Claude Lorrain, Oxford: Phaidon, 1989; Claude Lorrain: The Poetic Landscape, London: National Gallery, 1994). Rand’s narrative format retains something of the fluidity of the installation itself and the sense of dialogue among the exhibited works without quarantining them into separate catalogue entries. As such, the catalogue avoids becoming the clinical, analytical counterpart to the sheer visual pleasures of the exhibition, and instead captures the spirit, pacing, and momentum of the installation. Rand’s text, brimming with insights, is a novel and definitive contribution to Claude scholarship.

The catalogue opens with a stimulating overview in which Rand distinguishes different drawing types and functions. The first are drawings after nature, largely in chalk with pen and ink, and virtuoso passages of wash. Rand is circumspect in assessing the degree to which they were produced plein air in front of the motif or vista, despite the contemporary testimony of biographers Joachim Sandrart and Filippo Badinucci. They state that Claude not only sketched but also painted out of doors during his frequent visits to the outskirts of Rome and trips farther afield to the picturesque sites of Tivoli, the Colli Albani, and Subiaco. Many of these studies, especially those of trees and of ruins in the landscape, are strikingly fresh and direct. Nonetheless, Rand observes that “despite his obvious fascination with natural phenomena, Claude was, perhaps paradoxically, one of the most conceptual artists of his age. His study of nature was always at the service of an ideal vision that formed the basis of his landscape paintings” (39). Claude elaborated this conceptual framework in compositional studies, which form the second major type. The counterpart to these preparatory works were Claude’s meticulous drawings in the Liber Veritatis recording his completed paintings. Like earlier scholars such as Kitson, Rand is skeptical of Claude’s professed justification for the Liber as a copyright against forgeries, and instead views the album as a fount of compositions that formed templates for future variations (32). With the limited graphic means of pen, wash, black chalk, and whitening, these drawings often capture the chromatic range and luminosity of the paintings themselves to a degree that transcends their ostensible documentary purpose.

In tandem with the paintings, the drawings chart the full process of Claude’s technique: from the direct study of forms in nature and motifs from antiquity, to devising the scenic matrix of receding planes and framing foliage and architecture, to the integration of closely observed natural detail into this framework in the paintings, to their graphic translation in the Liber. While acknowledging a trajectory from nature to culture in Claude’s construction of landscape, Rand insists that this transition is actually more subtly dialectical than staggered from one phase to the next. He also emphasizes the role of subjective vision over the landscape, as Claude’s "prospect privileges the all-encompassing and controlling eye of the single viewer: it organizes the scene from a position of dominance and mastery” (40). The exhibition installation is itself designed to situate the viewer in this subjective position of visual dominion, as surrogate for the artist before the sketched natural motif or vista, and, in the case of the final paintings, the sovereign gaze of the original patron. As Rand notes, this visual surveillance over a timeless and idyllic landscape, far removed from the insalubrious and bandit-ridden state of the Roman campagna, expressed the class ideology of the highest echelon of the Roman nobility and Church hierarchy, who clamored for Claude’s works.

The subsequent chapters correspond with the thematic layout of the exhibition. The first gallery displayed images of “The Artist in the Landscape,” thereby introducing the subjectivity and artifice of Claude’s vision of nature. Paintings such as the Coastal View (An Artist Studying from Nature) of 1639 (fig. 15; Cincinnati Art Museum) and the Liber Veritatis drawing of the Pastoral Landscape with the Arch of Constantine of 1648 (fig. 20) show the artist seated before the landscape yet totally absorbed, not in the vista, but in the gestating work of art. In each, an observer looks over the artist’s shoulder, witness to the transformation from nature to art. In An Artist Sketching with a Second Figure Looking On of 1635–40 (fig. 18), the figures rendered in bold wash bleed through to the verso, where Claude documents the object of the artist’s gaze in a vigorous tree study (fig. 19). The mutual seepage between recto and verso underscores the complementary roles of nature study and artistic vision in Claude’s practice.

The largest section of both the exhibition and catalogue, “Drawing from Nature,” documents Claude’s sketching expeditions in the Roman campagna. Absent the artist’s proxy in the landscape, the installation encourages the viewer to see with Claude’s eyes, especially as one confronts a stunning line-up of tree studies (figs. 28–9, 31–4). Whether employing deep washes, meticulous pen line, or delicately hatched chalk, Claude achieves amazing variations of lighting and textural effects, while suggesting tremulous limbs and foliage. Sandrart, who joined both Claude and Poussin in landscape-sketching jaunts during the 1630s, claimed that Claude, following his example, produced oil paintings directly “from nature itself, making nothing from the imagination” (Sandrart, “Claude Lorrain,” from Teutsche Academie, in Röthlisberger, 1961, 47–8). Two works that have been traditionally described as painted from life, Landscape with Goatherd and Goats (1636–37) in the National Gallery, London, and the View of La Crescenza (1648–50) from the Metropolitan Museum (figs. 30, 38), occupied a partition in the center of the gallery. Given the similarity in lighting and texture of the former to the tree studies, and the verifiable topography of the latter, Rand refrains from dismissing altogether their creation in the open air (66–8, 77–8). Sandrart specified that Claude’s oil studies focused on the view beyond the middle distance, capturing the inimitable range of dissipating hues at the horizon. Though such works have not survived, in the Tiber from Monte Mario Looking Southeast (fig. 50; ca. 1640–41) Claude applied virtuoso swaths of wash in varying tonal saturations that suggest the hazy contours of distant landscape forms viewed against the sun’s silhouetting rays.

The adjacent gallery, devoted to Tivoli, features a series of preparatory and Liber drawings contrasting accurate and fanciful views of the Tiburtine landscape crowned by the Temple of the Sibyl. For a visual climax to the first suite of galleries, Rand juxtaposes two closely related paintings of an Ideal View of Tivoli at Sunset of circa 1644 (figs. 56, 58; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and New Orleans Museum of Art). Around the paired Tivoli paintings, Rand gathers a fascinating group of largely reproductive drawings that reveal how Claude produced variations of his popular compositions to satisfy patron demand.

The Tivoli views broach the theme of the next gallery/section, “Landscapes Old and New.” Continuing its trajectory from nature to culture, the exhibition here emphasizes Claude’s studies of the ancient Roman monuments that endow his landscape with their timeless and nostalgic quality. As a point of contrast, a central partition displays Saint Peter’s Basilica, Seen from the Janiculum, an exquisite study in black chalk that documents Bernini’s doomed campanile crowning the façade (fig. 60; 1640–41). Claude selects a point of view outside the Janiculum walls, where the edifice stands in imposing isolation, its lofty cupola rising in wry juxtaposition to a colossal haystack. The verso of this sheet, with its equally precise chalk study Ruins on the Palatine (fig. 61), announces the prevailing focus of the gallery on ancient monuments, especially expressive pen-and-ink studies of ruins (figs. 66–8). In the focal paintings of this gallery, the Landscape with Shepherds (fig. 75; 1644; Musée des beaux arts, Grenoble) and the Pastoral Landscape of 1638 (fig. 69; Minneapolis Institute of Arts), an ancient monument (the Temple of the Tiburtine Sibyl and of Vespasian, respectively) punctuates a verdant riverbank idyll. Complementing the pastoral paintings, the gallery closes with several of Claude’s graphic renditions of shepherds in the landscape with their flocks (figs. 74, 76–8). While Rand correctly situates these images in the literary tradition of the pastoral, might one detect something more fraught here than anodyne visions of leisure and human harmony with nature? Claude shows herdsmen pointing and gazing at the landscape or traveling through it. Are they bearing witness to the bucolic landscape as an irrecoverable fantasy, conversing on its impending loss and the exile of its inhabitants, as in the Virgilian pastoral and its Renaissance imitators such as Sannazaro? If so, the preternatural harmony of the landscape, both in mood and construction, becomes idealized and poignantly ironic at the same time.

The next section of the catalogue, “In the Studio,” encompasses several thematic groups in the ensuing galleries. The emphasis shifts toward the conceptual side of Claude’s construction of the landscape. The first suite of images shows how in drawings and paintings throughout the 1640s Claude devised a template comprising a shaded foreground repoussoir of trees and/or ruins, mid-ground aquatic vista with arched bridge, and distant towers and hills (figs. 79–85). In the Landscape with Nymph and Satyr Dancing of 1641 (fig. 81; Toledo Art Museum), the most impressive painting in the exhibition, a Tivoli-inspired Temple anchors the shady foreground as its ruined peristyle curves back toward the middle distance, where the setting sun bathes a medieval riverfront town. Rand muses eloquently on how Claude not only artfully interweaves spatial zones but also collapses temporal distinctions, as mythic beings inhabit, or rather haunt, a foreground clearing strewn with ruins from their era juxtaposed with the modern campagna in the distance.

The exhibition next moves from Claude’s woodland landscapes to his most scenographic and artificial mode, the port scenes. Here grandiose architecture flanks a central harbor whose waters gleam in reflected sunlight. The exhibition includes several preparatory drawings for such vistas (figs. 90–91, 93) and two exceptional Liber sheets, after the Harbor Scene of 1636 and the Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula of 1641 (figs. 87, 92), which bracket Claude’s forays in this grand mode. Given the amount of related graphic work on display, it is unfortunate that one of the great seaport paintings could not have been included in the show (instead of the humble Detroit A Seaport at Sunset [ca. 1635], fig. 88). Claude’s relatively accurate portrayal of ruins in his pastoral landscapes evolves into fanciful hybrids of pristine ancient and Renaissance structures lining the quays. This grafting of ancient stories and a Roman mise-en-scène undoubtedly appealed to Claude’s patrons, since a study placing Saint Ursula’s entourage before appropriately Germanic towers of her native Cologne (fig. 91) gives way to a composite of the Palazzo della Cancelleria and the Villa Medici in the painting.

Within Claude’s woodland landscape and seaport formulae, the depicted subject was, beyond a generic decorum, often incidental and even interchangeable. The final galleries of the exhibition examine groups of mostly later works in which subject matter becomes a dominant aesthetic prerogative. Here, a decisive factor was Poussin’s influence, which Rand acknowledges, though he does not expand upon this important issue. Some subjects are eminently suited to Claude’s serene pastoral template, such as multiple variants of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (figs. 100–103) or the lush landscape of the Judgment of Paris of 1645–6 (fig. 104; National Gallery, Washington). Elsewhere, Claude essays a programmatic relationship between the design and subject of the landscape. In the Death of Procis of 1646, for which only the Liber sheet remains (fig. 106), the horror of Cephalus’s inadvertent slaughter of his beloved reverberates through a dark, craggy landscape. Here looming diagonal repoussoirs trap the fated couple, rather than gently calibrate the viewer’s journey to the horizon. Enclosure and invisibility are likewise themes that Claude explores in the Coast Scene with Acis and Galatea of 1657 (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), also present through its Liber ricordo (fig. 107). As the lovers huddle within a makeshift canopy in the foreground, the cyclops Polyphemus sprawls upon a distant seaside promontory, serenading Galatea with verses, which, following Ovid, metaphorically cast his woodland realm and monstrous body as a locus amoenus. As Rand observes, Polyphemus’s lyrics find their equivalent in the coastal scene that seduces the viewer’s gaze, but not the object of his affections who indulges in her furtive tryst concealed from the sun, which the beast likens to his single eye.

The apex of Claude’s literary approach to structuring landscape is the great pair of paintings produced for François Bosquet, the Bishop of Montpellier, from 1656–9: the Sermon on the Mount (Frick Collection) and Queen Esther at the Palace of Ahasuerus (destroyed). In one of the highlights of the exhibition, Rand presents several preparatory drawings coupled with the Liber sheets of these ambitious pendants (figs. 113, 115, 117, 119). One regrets, however, that a couple of outside loans of drawings were not secured so that the exhibition could present the full design evolution as thoroughly as in the catalogue. In Rand’s analysis, the Esther stages the narrative in terms of the nature/culture dialectic that had always animated Claude’s approach to landscape. In the original scheme (fig. 116; Norton Simon Museum), Claude situates the queen’s promenade to the right, under a trio of trees, while the typical distant vista unfolds at left. As Rand suggests, “Claude placed the queen’s entourage beneath the rhythmic gathering of trees, signifying that they are closer to nature. He opposed the trees to the hard profiles of the Doric columns at the right; like the king’s sentries that stand guard, they represent a forbidding counterpoint to the curving, open forms of the women and their trees” (171). I would also venture to suggest that the trio of curved interlocking boughs foreshadows Esther’s swoon into the cradling limbs of her two maidservants when she finally faces the implacable king. Claude, however, excises this arboreal metaphor from the more highly developed studies closer to the definitive design (figs. 117–18). In these, the gargantuan complexes of terraces, palaces, and towers substitute for the body of the king, which the unbidden Esther thereby violates. Given the loss of the final painting, the exquisite presentation drawing from the Metropolitan Museum (fig. 118) might have merited an outside loan. Terraces modeled on the Temple of Fortuna at Palestrina support a composite of the Vatican Palace and Belvedere wings. The allusive architecture signals that the fortune of a persecuted people shifts as Esther enters the palace of sovereign religious and temporal authority. In the final painting, as recorded in the Liber Veritatis (fig. 119), the distant palace, with its mansard roof and rounded turrets and finials, is more French than papal in design. Perhaps the predilections of the new French bishop contributed as much to the final design as Claude’s purported desire, according to Rand, to underscore the “feminine nature” of the queen and her resistance to power through a garden-like setting (175).

Rand devotes the final gallery/chapter, “Heroic Landscapes,” largely to Claude’s paintings after the Aeneid and other works from his last decade. Claude’s scenes from the foundation epic of Rome, with their emphasis on coastal landings, the bounty of the land, and treaties with native tribes, functioned as a mythic pedigree for patrons from venerable Roman aristocratic families. Nature and culture intermesh, since the Latium coast and the Tiber riverbank are the arena of Roman legend. Claude’s coastal and riverbank formulae achieve a tectonic grandeur, suggesting the commencement of an enduring civilization, while the aquatic vistas index the extent and duration of the Trojans’ voyage to fulfill their destiny. Absent any painting, the exhibition presents Claude’s meditations on the Aeneid with two pairs of Liber sheets and some related preparatory sketches. The most evocative of these, Landscape with the Arrival of Aeneas at Pallanteum, painted for Prince Gasparo Altieri in 1675 (fig. 131), stages the diplomatic concord that permits the founding of Rome. Given the family’s rise to papal status with the unexpected election of Camillo Altieri as Clement X, an act of providential diplomacy, the theme emphasizes their pedigree as heirs to Aeneas. Indeed, the landscape is conspicuously Roman, as the Tiber winds between the Aventine, seat of Evander’s realm, and the Janiculum. To make the point, Rand demonstrates how the profiles of both hills conform to A View of the Aventine from 1673, the latest purported scene from nature in the exhibit (fig. 133). Claude embellishes the elevated vista with framing trees and ruins, as well as with a pair of onlookers who gesture in awe at the magnificent view, affirming once again the visual self-consciousness and cultural dominion through which landscape comes into being.

Jonathan Unglaub
Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts, Brandeis University