My favourite Claude painting

claude lorrain

On a recent trip to the National Gallery I found myself being drawn to the French landscape painter Claude’s painting of “Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula.” I loved the amazing use of light in the panting which really gave me a sense that I was actually looking and breathing in the scene at sea. I say “breathing”, in particular, as I had the weird sensation that I was breathing in sea air just looking at the pic! How is that possible from staring at a pic I thought? Could it just be the humidifying system around that particular room, that painting, playing with my senses? And so, as I stood there looking at the panting I found myself breathing easier, sucking it all in. On closer inspection there is also a wonderful sense of movement in the picture.

Every figure seems to be fluid, moving, reacting… living.

Even the stationery figures in the painting or figures far away in the distance of the landscape Claude has somehow painted them moving.

Claude Lorrain, was hugely influential as a landscape painter of his era. Born in North Eastern France he would spend most of his time in Italy, visiting Naples but settling in Rome. Amongst those he would deeply influence would be the English landscape painter JMW Turner who was even referred to as the “British Claude.” When Turner died in 1851 he left two landscape paintings to the National Gallery on the proviso that they would be hung next to paintings of Claude. Another leading English landscape painter John Constable declared Claude quite simply “the most perfect landscape painter the world has ever seen”.

By the end of the 1630s Claude was seen as the preeminent landscapist in Italy with resulted in his works fetching large sums. Not bad for a man who worked his way up from being a pastry cook in Rome. Part of the Baroque movement he created his canvas oil painting Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula in 1641. Although the subject matter of ‘Saint Ursula’ is the stuff of legends and mythology it has none of the outwardly, imposing reverence of Christianity and martyrdom that is hard to escape in many of the rooms at the National.  In fact it is not easy to even pick out Saint Ursula who is dressed in yellow holding a flag. But if you click on this National Gallery link to the pic you can zoom in for a closer inspection and see her and also other people in the pic.

Claude was a prolific painter and there was said to have been hundreds of his paintings in British collection by the early 19th century. His work can be found in major galleries around the world. But paintings for me personally, just like novels or movies are all about specific works which means I very rarely like a large body of someone’s work. Some I like a lot and others not so much. So there are other Claude’s at the National, “Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba” being one which has often been praised and admired and continues the seaport theme but I don’t get the same sense of light, of breathing in the scene. Try as I might the sea air, the breeze is not evident as it is in Saint Ursula.

Claude Lorrain: The Enchanted Landscape

Turner – A Life

John Constable: The Making of a Master

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