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Work Large Landscape

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Grand paysage

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Grollemund Hélène

Like all landscape artists, Claude Gellée had a liking for trees and made many studies of them throughout his career. This large pen and wash drawing of a stand of trees in a valley, with a river running by, is a work in itself, and not a preparatory study for a painting or an etching.

An Arcadian vision

Three large trees cast their shade on a group of shepherds in a valley near a river. A single shepherd on the left is keeping watch over the sheep and cattle. The tranquility of this pastoral scene is accentuated by the screen of high mountains in the background. The work is a perfect illustration of Claude Gellée's orderly, peaceful world, in which men and beasts live together, often without working, in beautiful countryside under always clear skies. This vision of the world has been called "ideal" or "Arcadian"; it is often associated with the myth of The Golden Age. However, Claude's art largely escapes the features of the landscapes painted by other artists classified under the same labels, whose sources of inspiration were close to his. In fact, he seldom unleashes the elements or introduces tragic scenes.

Independent drawings

From the 1640s on, Claude drew more preparatory sketches for his paintings and executed fewer studies directly from nature. In his composite landscapes, he introduced scenes with various characters: shepherds keeping their flocks - as in this drawing - peasants, and mythological or Biblical scenes. But the emphasis is always on nature and on trees in particular. These independent works, inspired by direct contact with nature, are heroic views, which show a rather free style, despite the careful finish. They are drawn with a sure hand, exploring a relatively confined space with great care for detail.

Nature recomposed

The group of trees is a transfer - highlighted with several tones of wash and areas left white - of a pen and ink landscape in the British Museum, which was no doubt drawn from the same motif, but the layout, dimensions, and details such as the birds in the sky distinguish it from studies made from nature. The unusual size of this drawing, the precise pen strokes, and the composition are evidence that it is not a study from nature but a recomposition done in the studio. However, the harmonious arrangement of the volumes and the study of light - the trees outlined against the setting sun - do not seem artificial. As a picturesque combination of natural elements, the drawing is a successful recreation of a particular time of day. Along with the landscape in the British Museum, it has been compared to a very small painting on tin, executed in 1647, showing the same group of three trees in the center. But in the painting (Lord Methuen, Corsham Court, Wiltshire), the flock and the shepherds have been replaced by St. John the Baptist as a child, guided by two angels.


M. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain : The drawings, Berkeley et Los Angeles, 1968, n 634
J.-F. Méjanès, in Dessins français du XVIIe siècle : LXXXIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1984-1985, notice 80
J.-F. Méjanès, in Le Paysage en Europe du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle : XCVe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1990, notice 89
Et aussi :
H. Diane Russell, Claude Gellée dit le Lorrain 1600-1682, cat. Exp. Washington, National Gallery of Art, Paris, Grand-Palais, 1982-1983

Technical description

  • Claude GELLEE, called Le Lorrain(e) (Champagne, Vosges, 1600 - Rome, 1682)

    Large Landscape

  • Pen, brown ink, and brown wash

    H. 28.1 cm; W. 41.3 cm

  • RF 765

  • Prints and Drawings

    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