(b. 1604, Chamagne, d. 1682, Roma)

Italian Coastal Landscape

Oil on canvas, 97 x 131 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The painting is signed and dated: Claude in. f. Romae 1642. The painting is included in Liber Veritatis (LV 64).

A shepherd-couple are placed in the foreground of this southern landscape. The woman is seated on a rock and is listening to the shepherd playing the shawm. To the right of the picture is a tent supported by a tree, and on the left a stone bridge leads to a ruined Roman temple. In the background the open sea is half-obscured by the mist of a warm summer's day.

The painter, whose real name was Claude Gellée, was a native of Lorraine. When he first arrived in Rome, he worked as a pastrycook, then as assistant to the landscape painter Agostino Tassi, whom he helped with decorative work. Not much is known about his early career. It was only in his thirties that he began to acquire stature and reputation as an artist in his own right. The German painter-biographer Joachim von Sandrart, reporting on his visit to Rome (1629-35), writes that Claude was determined 'to become familiar with nature in all its forms, and would spend whole days and late into the night in the fields, so that he learned how to convey most naturally the flush of day, the rising and setting of the sun . . .'.

Characteristic features of Claude's art are the subtle moods of the landscape and the variation in the seascape with the changing seasons. People are unimportant in his pictures; the painter regarded them only as a means of lending animation to his landscapes and as a rule he did not even paint them himself. In the 1630s he started a book which he gradually filled with pen-and-ink drawings of almost 200 of his own pictures; although it does not comprise his entire oeuvre, it is nevertheless a unique documentary record of his artistic creations. The book is preserved today in the British Museum under the title Liber Veritatis; in it the Berlin landscape features on p. 64, and according to a note written on the verso, the work was commissioned by a patron in Paris.

This picture is recorded as having been in English private ownership in the early eighteenth century: until 1722 it was in the possession of the Duke of Portland, who sold it to the Earl of Scarbrough. About 1818 it passed into the possession of Count Pourtalès and from him, in 1865, into the collection of the Marquis de la Ganay, from whom Bode bought it in 1881 for the Berlin Gallery.

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