Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century
Prints and Drawings
This drawing is simple but impressive. The foliage trembling in the light shows that the artist worked directly from nature. According to Sandrart, he used to work "in the country from dawn to dusk, learning how to represent daybreak, sunrise and sunset, and the twilight hours, in a natural way. He spent years on this laborious task, going into the country every day and taking the long road home again each evening".
The artist's sensitivity is very clear in this drawing: working from a low angle, he has sketched the leafy tangle of the branches, foliage, and trunk of a tree rising out of a mass of bushes at the top of a bank. Although only the upper part of the tree can be seen, it seems full of light, air, and wind, and its branches twist in all directions.
The vigor of the pen and brush strokes give a dazzling impression of the energy of a living organism. The drawing thus belies the criticism leveled at Claude Lorrain's art, notably by Roger Fry in Vision and Design (1924): "One can bet that nobody loved trees as deeply as Claude; we know that he boasted of carefully recording the specific features of each one and yet he articulates their branches in a random, utterly careless way. None of these countless drawings by Claude show the life of the tree, its upward race for air and light, its struggle against gravity and the wind, as does the least little drawing by Leonardo da Vinci." Moreover, "he asks his tree to convey to the eye the only meaning that this word immediately brings to mind. We think first of all of a shady, moving mass, outlined against a luminous sky; but, whether by chance or by design, Claude stops at that, despite the care he gives to detail".
The art of sketching
For some authors, this open-air study, with its side lighting and unusual perspective, is a typical example of Claude's 'transition' period, which marks the start of a new direction, technique, and style. The drawings made during this period, which can be situated between 1655 and 1660, are mainly fresh sketches from nature, no longer washed with bistre on paper nor drawn with bold pen strokes. Artists sought increasingly to solve the problems of harmony between lines and masses, and light and shade, without losing the spontaneous charm of what they saw (a development that can be seen in the use of finer pen strokes here).
Other authors, on the contrary, believe this landscape to be a later work, by comparison with a group of three drawings in Haarlem (Teyler Museum), Vienna (the Albertina), and the Wildenstein album: these three sheets, dated to the 1630s, are similar in style to the Louvre drawing, but the maturity apparent in the latter allows it to be dated to circa 1640.
Bacou Roseline et Bean Jacob (sous la dir. de), Le dessin à Rome au XVIIe siècle : XCIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1988, notice 71.
Demonts Louis, Catalogue des dessins de Claude Gellée dit Le Lorrain, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux,1923, notice 24.
Fry Roger, Vision and design, New York, 1924.
Méjanès Jean-François, in Dessins français du XVIIe siècle : LXXXIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1984-1985, notice 79.
Roethlisberger Marcel, Claude Lorrain : The drawings, Berkeley et Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1968, notice 273.
Russell Helen Diane, Claude Gellée dit Le Lorrain 1600-1682, exp. Washington, National Gallery of Art, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983, notice 14.
Sérullaz Maurice, in Première exposition des plus beaux dessins du Louvre et de quelques pièces célèbres des collections de Paris, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1962, notice 85.
Claude GELLÉE, called Claude LORRAIN or CLAUDE (Champagne, 1600-Rome, 1682)
Circa 1640 or 1655-60
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, on beige-tinted paper
H. 27.5 cm; W. 20.8 cm
Pelletan sale, Paris, 14 April 1803; purchased by the Louvre before 1815.
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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See the related mini-site Claude Lorrain: The Draftsman Studying Nature