French painter and etcher, b. in 1600 at Chamagnc on the banks of the Moselle in Lorraine; d. in Rome, 21 Nov., 1681 (or 23 Nov., 1682). His parents, Jean Gellée and Anna Padose, poor and with a large family, gave Claude little schooling. Left an orphan at the age of twelve, he lived with an elder brother, a wood carver, at Freiburg, and there learned to draw ornaments and arabesques. Sandrart, a writer on art and Claude's friend, says that the boy was apprenticed to a pastry-cook; but pistori may have been a misprint for pictori (a painter). About 1613 a relative took Claude to Rome, where he appears to have abandoned the boy. Claude wandered to Naples seeking Gottfried Wals, a Cologne artist, whose pictures he greatly admired. For two years Wals taught him architectural perspective and landscape painting. In 1615 Claude returned to Rome, and became a member of the household of Agostino Tassi, who was painting a series of decorations for Pope Paul V. Claude was half domestic servant and half artistic assistant to Tassi, who mentions him as a co-worker in decorating Cardinal Montalto's palace. In 1625 Claude went to Venice, a city which deeply impressed him and his future work, and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Virgin of Loretto for devotion and meditation. He then roamed through the Tyrol, Bavaria, the Black Forest, and to Nancy where he worked for a year on architectural painting. These wanderings impoverished his purse and his health and he longed for Rome, to which he returned in 1627 to reside there until his death. The Eternal City welcomed him, and commissions from the illustrious of all Europe poured in upon him. Among them were Popes Innocent X, Urban VIII, Clement IX (Cardinal Rospigliosi), and Alexander VII, Emperor Leopold I, Philip IV of Spain, the Duke of Bouillon (commander of the papal forces), the Constable Colonna (Claude's patron of later years), and Cardinals Crescenzio, Poli, Giorio, and Spada.
Claude was not only a faithful and absorbed student of nature but a tireless and rapid worker; in 1644 he completed seventeen important canvases. It is told that he took extraordinary care in painting one picture composed of trees of many kinds, a study he always kept beside his easel, and that he refused to sell it even to his best friend, Cardinal Rospigliosi, who offered to cover its surface twice over with gold pieces. Claude was the first original French painter, the first original modern painter, and the first to paint effects instead of things. While his landscapes are thoroughly classic, they are above all ideal: "there are no landscapes in Nature like those of Claude" (Goethe). He would contemplate for hours--even days--one subject in nature, to which he would return in other weathers and conditions. Herein he resembled the modern Impressionists, one of whom, Pissaro, regards Claude as the forerunner of their school. Claude "effected a revolution in art by setting the sun in the heavens" (Ruskin); and in the pictorial treatment of aerial perspective, in depth of background, and in delicate colour tones reflecting sunlight's myriad effects, he is unsurpassed. His earlier painting was cool, bluish, and silvery; but he soon abandoned these tones for a rich, warm, and golden treatment of both landscape and marine. In figure painting he did not excel; he sold his landscapes, he said, and gave away his figures.
Claude united the lofty poetic feelings of the Italians with a Flemish correctness and mastery of perspective; his compositions are symmetrical, yet free; and if he had a fault it was exaggerated gracefulness. Inspired by Callot, whom perhaps he knew, Claude began etching about 1629, and within a decade wrought the greater number of his (forty-two) plates. These are freely needled, carried to completeness, full of wonderful atmosphere, and suggestive of the colour and light pervading his oil paintings. Hamerton says that "there is an ineffable tenderness in his handling", and that his "Herdsman" is "the finest landscape etching in the world for technical quality". In 1662 Claude's interest in etching revived, and he executed two large plates, "Mercury and Argus" and "Time, Apollo, and the Seasons". Claude was one of the few great artists to be appreciated during his life; and such a demand arose for his paintings that numerous forgeries of them were passed off as "Claudes". To frustrate such frauds he made drawings, washed with sepia or bistre, of all his paintings; and these, about two hundred in all, constitute the "Liber Veritatis" (a treasure now possessed by the Duke of Devonshire). This collection, however, is far from containing all of Claude's drawings. Claude was of a reserved, contemplative, and religious temperament, kindly in disposition and generous. His favourite relaxation was music. During the last twenty years of his life he was in precarious health and tormented with attacks of gout. At his death he provided liberally for his nephew and his ward, Agnes, and bequeathed noble pictures to various Roman churches, also to his friend and patron Cardinal Rospigliosi "for the good advice he has always given me". Claude was buried in the church of Trinitá dei Monti; but on the recommendation of M Thiers, his remains were transported to the French church of San Liii in 1840.
Of the one hundred and seventy-five canvases in England, the "Bouillon Claudes", "Nuptials of Isaac and Rebecca", and "Embarcation of the Queen of Sheba" are world-famed, and became conspicuous under the terms of Turner's will. The Hermitage possesses twelve fine examples, among them the great series: "Morning", "Noon", "Evening", and "Night". Rome has seventeen, Munich six, and the Vanderbilt collection four fine canvases. In Dresden is the "Dido and Æneas". His best-known etchings are the "Herdsman", the "Ford", and the "Firework" series.
BROWNELL, French Art (New York, 1908); PATTISON, Claude Lorraine, sa Vie et ses åuvres (Paris, 1884); LUBKE History of Art (2 vols., New York, 1904); HIND, History of Engraving and Etching (London, 1908); DULLEA, Claude Gellée le Lorrain (New York, 1887); SANDRART, Academia Nobilissimæ Artis Pictoriæ (Nuremburg, 1683).