Claude Le Lorrain

From Fontainebleau to the Louvre:  French Drawing from the Seventeenth Century.
The Sackler Museum, Harvard University.

(Originally published in Art New England , 1980)

There are many lovely drawings here, but a group of dreamy, romantic landscapes by Claude Gellee – known as Claude Le Lorrain but often called, affectionately, Claude – kept pulling me irresistibly away from the elegant Poussins, the delightful Callots, the estimable Simon Vouets,  even away from a marvelous Deruet drawing of an Amazon woman on horseback, armed to the hilt, carrying a spear, and washed in pale brown ink that was flecked with real gold.

Claude’s art is pure poetry.  The word “drawing” doesn’t begin to convey the rich and tender touch of his pen and brush – the delicate washes that glide across the page, modelling and caressing shadows and shapes, and the glorious, golden light that keeps melting through.

Claude’s pastoral landscapes are often inhabited by small figures in classical dress – shepherds and shepherdesses sitting dreamily in a shadowed valley, or pausing at dusk beside a group of trees.

In “Landscape with Procession Crossing a Bridge,” a group of men and women march through a forest overhung with soft, leafy trees, raising their trumpets as they approach a Grecian temple.  This drawing conveys a sense of rhapsody and wonder that reminded me of the scene in Tchaikovsky‘s Swan Lake, just before the hunters discover the dancing swans.

Claude’s light is dusk and twilight — the darkling light that washes the physical world in unearthly beauty and fills the heart with an intoxicating sense of possibility. His drawings describe the moment just before transfiguration — the moment just before women turn into goddesses, or girls turn into swans, or life turns into art.

by Rebecca Nemser for

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