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Claude Lorrain: The Enchanted Landscape

Rediscovering the father of European landscape painting, Claude Gellée (c.1600–1682), or Claude Lorrain as he is best known.
Ashmolean Museum

November 18, 2011
Claude Lorrain's Enchanted Landscape drew on classical themes, but evoked such a powerful response to nature in the painter that the poetry of his depiction of early morning or evening light has never been surpassed. The tranquillity of Lorrain’s pastoral landscape is transcendental.

His depiction of ancient ruins, set in warm, Southern European classical landscapes, had the British aristocracy collecting his paintings and drawings in droves, nostalgic for the Grand Tour of their youth. Outside, the windows of mansions in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Wiltshire, the parkland of Rousham, Blenheim, Stowe, Compton Verney and Stourhead was enthusiastically shaped to Lorrain’s canvas vision.

Constable's favourite landscape artist, hugely admired by JMW Turner and Samuel Palmer, it was the arrival of the pre- Raphaelites and Impressionists which eclipsed Lorrain's popularity, and for a century his paintings, once the apogee of classical landscape painting prized by Kings and Popes, and latterly English gentlemen in equal measure, was forgotten.

Jon Whitely and Martin Sonnebend's current exhibition at the Ashmolean assembles some of Lorrain's greatest classical masterpieces, but also demonstrates his much less known talents as a graphic artist and printmaker, both of which demonstrate consummate mastery of the medium, with elements of surrealist surprise.

Lorrain’s seascapes are a revelation, his shipwrecks tossed in waves which rock and crash, spread-eagling masts and rearing hulls, man a pitiful wretch faced with nature’s power. Even the simplest pen drawing captures every rock and crevice, wheeling bird or cluster of leaves on a branch.

Look out for a disembodied leg, or an eagle transformed into a tree. Magritte would have loved it.

So take a look - especially 26th November - 2nd December 2011 when the entrance price is reduced to £5. Be enticed - the talents of Lorrain are breathtaking.
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