Claude Lorrain (Claude Gellée)

  • 1604 or 1605 ? - 1682
  • Artist
  • French

A peasant's son, Claude Gellée became known as Claude Lorrain, named after the duchy in which he was born. He had difficulty writing French and Italian and could barely count, but he could explain light's effects like a physicist. Entirely devoted to his art, the kind, guileless Claude became wildly successful despite ruthless competition. Responding to forgers, notably Sébastien Bourdon, he began recording the pictures he sold in his Liber veritatis (Book of Truth), now in the British Museum, which contains some examples of his most beautiful draftsmanship.

The young Claude began his career in Rome by about 1617, where he largely remained until his death. He studied the art of Northern European landscapists working in Italy, trained under Rome's landscape painters, and briefly studied in Naples. By 1633 Claude had found his definitive landscape style and joined Rome's Accademia di San Luca.

Regardless of subject, Claude's focus was always landscape and light, which unified his pictures. Thin, semi-transparent layers of oil paint created extraordinary luminosity, and every element was subordinated to the poetic feeling of the whole. To stimulate his imagination to devise images more beautiful and better ordered than nature itself, he drew outdoors daily. In life and long after his death, Claude influenced landscape painting and garden design, through his paintings and over 1,300 drawings.