Narcissus and Echo
by CLAUDE LORRAIN (French School)
CLAUDE GELEE, called Claude Lorrain from his native province, was an un
lettered baker with an idolatrous love for nature and for painting. Born of
obscure parents and left an orphan at the age of twelve, he moved to Freiburg
on the Rhine with his brother and learned the craft of engraving. He went to
Italy, as the modern pilgrim goes to Paris, and wandered from town to town,
working as a pastry cook and a menial assistant to artists. At twenty-seven,
he settled in Rome, an awkward, clownish painter living from hand to mouth
until middle age when his pictures caught the fancy of the collectors.
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On his weaker side, Claude was the victim of his friend and preceptor,
Poussin, and he labored like a slave to be noble and heroic, painting land
scapes of desiccated classicality, with marble edifices and the nostalgIa for
creeds outworn hanging over them in lethargic vapors.
These pictures, aside
from his new handling of space and atmosphere, do not represent his contribution to painting.
At best Claude was a simple lyric poet, and his ability to remove his head
from the classical halter and return to the things he loved is proof of the depth
of his convictions. What interested him was not the growth and structure of
nature, but the effects of light and atmosphere on vegetation and water.
pictures are valuable as impressions, as statements of his feelings, or more
exactly, the state of bliss induced in him by his adopted country-a world,
to him, undisturhed by the grime and toil of man-of pagan happiness, pleasant shade, and bucolic sentiment.
The catalogue title, Narcissus and Echo, means little-the classical allusion
is dimly realized; the actual subject is the luminous vista of the South. The
picture demonstrates Claude’s sound sense of design: the coalescence of his
impressions into a general statement which arouses the wonder and unexpected
thrill of a landscape stretching far away through shining vapors into infinite
The picture space is divided into three planes-now an academic
habit: the dark foreground, half-tones in the middle distance, and a waning
background filled with light; and these divisions are blurred and dissolved,
one into the other, thus establishing unity of form and mood.
It was Claude’s
constructive ability, his playing of line against line, and tone against tone, to
achieve rhythmical balance, as well as his interest in outdoor phenomena, that
made him the master of Constable, Turner, and Corot.