I love painting landscapes in oil, and thankfully, I love learning about the art equally as much. I’m fascinated by stories of early artists and how they approached their work. Currently, I’m reading about the life and work of Claude Lorrain, one of the first to be recognized as a landscape artist.
Here is one of his best-known works. It’s titled An Artist Studying From Nature:
To me, this painting is not only beautiful, but also meaningful. Again and again, I find those same words coming from master artists: To know nature, we must study nature.
Claude Lorrain is considered a painter of ideal landscapes, which is to say he painted nature in ideal forms rather than merely painting the landscape as it truly was. His works have a peaceful quality about them. Pastoral scenes with shepherds watching their flocks was a popular theme for him. One such pastoral is the Roman Campagna which makes use of light in the background and deep shadows in the foreground.
He was known for his use of sunlight in paintings. I find it interesting that before him, the sun rarely figured in a landscape. Although he was not considered an innovative artist, he certainly did bring a bit of light to the history of art.
Here, in Seaport at Sunset, you can see the setting sun:
At the time Claude painted — he is known as Claude from the duchy of Lorrain — landscape art was not taken seriously in Italy. Artists were expected to present more noble scenes — those dealing with mythology or religion. In Claude’s work, we see many mythological figures, heroes and saints, most likely added to make his work more acceptable for the time. His personal sketchbooks, however, show a distinct focus on the landscape itself.
I find it interesting that many of the landscape scenes by Claude are imaginary ones, yet even so, he taught his students the importance of studying directly from nature. He then used his deep understanding of the natural world to show it in his idealized form.
English artist John Constable described Claude as “the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw”, and declared that in Claude’s landscape “all is lovely – all amiable – all is amenity and repose; the calm sunshine of the heart”.
Truly it is restful to view Claude’s landscapes, to imagine ourselves in those peaceful quiet scenes, to reflect upon the setting sun at the close of the day. True art, I have learned, is art that has feeling, art that captures our moods and emotions. These beautiful paintings speak to me with a hushed voice — one that is almost reverent. I hope that as I continue my study of landscape painting I will often hear that gentle voice guiding me along the way.