Claude Gellée (Claude Lorrain)

Le Bouvier (the cowherd), 1636
5 x 7.50 in
SKU: 10627g
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 This etching is also in the collections of the Met and the Louvre. It was published by Mannocci #18. "Le Bouvier" is an original etching by Claude Gellée, known as Claude Lorrain or simply Claude. The work depicts a cowherd with his cows in the foreground, set against an idyllic landscape with ruins in the left background and in the right distance. The work is an example of Claude’s staging of nature and representing an idealized pastoral scene.

Claude Lorrain, a French contemporary of Rembrandt working in Rome in the seventeenth century, was a great landscape artist. Like Rembrandt, most of Claude’s paintings are history paintings with figures which represent a biblical or mythological scene. His drawings and etchings, like Rembrandt’s, focus on his construction of the natural world, as in Le Bouvier. Joachim van Sandrart, a German artist and one of Claude’s biographers, described the artist’s working methods for capturing the essence of nature. He wrote that Claude “...studied his art with great seriousness and application; he tried by every means to penetrate nature, lying in the fields before the break of day and until night in order to learn to represent very exactly the red morning sky, sunrise and sunset and the evening hours. When he had well contemplated one or the other in the fields, he immediately prepared his colors accordingly, returned home and applied them to the work he had in mind with much greater naturalness than anyone had ever done.”


Claude and his contemporary, Nicholas Poussin, were lauded for their classical landscapes that stressed balance and harmony as opposed to verisimilitude to a particular locale. The eighteenth-century poet and philosopher, Goethe, stated: “The pictures are True, yet have no trace of actuality. Claude Lorrain knew the real world by heart, down to the minutest details, but he used it only as a means of expression the world of his beautiful soul. And this, precisely, is true ideality: to avail oneself of realistic means to reveal the True in such a way that it creates an illusion of being the Real.” While Le Bouvier depicts a pastoral rather than a classical subject, the formal elements of the scene are laid out with the balance and harmony of a history picture.


Landscape had a low status in the hierarchy of genres during Claude’s time. Despite his mastery of landscape and his legacy as one of the most accomplished landscape painters in Western art history, Claude was known during his time as a history painter, representing mythological and religious subjects. In seventeenth-century Europe, landscape, like still life and genre painting, was believed to be a genre that lacked moral seriousness. In the matter of the significance of landscape painting, Claude was prescient. Although he did not depict the uninhabited panoramas esteemed in later centuries and his works featured pastoral worlds populated by classical ruins or seascapes, Claude was, as the nineteenth-century artist John Constable said “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.” To satisfy his patrons, his pictures included gods, heroes, and saints, even though his sketchbooks contain many drawings of the natural world. 


Artwork Size: 5" x 7 1/2"
Frame Size: 19 3/8" x 21 7/8"


Artist Bio:


Claude Lorrain was born in c. 1604 into poverty in the town of Chamagne, Vosges in Lorraine—then the Duchy of Lorraine, an independent state until 1766 in northeastern France. He was one of five children. His name was Claude Gellée, however, he is known by the province in which he was born. He is often simply called Claude. Orphaned by the age of twelve, he went to live in Freiburg with an elder brother, Jean Gellée, a woodcarver. Claude went to Rome and then Naples from 1619 to 1621, where he apprenticed under Goffredo (Gottfried) Wals. He returned to Rome in April of 1625 and was apprenticed to Augustin Tassi.


Claude toured in Italy, France, and Germany, including his native Lorraine. Claude Deruet, painter to the Duke of Lorraine, kept him as an assistant for a year. He painted architectural subjects in Nancy at the Carmelite church.

In 1627, Claude returned to Rome. Two landscapes commissioned by Cardinal Bentivoglio earned him the patronage of Pope Urban VIII. From about 1627, he rapidly achieved fame as a painter of landscapes and seascapes.


 Apparently, he befriended his fellow Frenchman, Nicolas Poussin; together they would travel the Roman Campagna, sketching landscapes. Although both artists have been called landscape painters, they were history painters. In Poussin’s work, landscape is a backdrop for the figures that dominate the composition. Claude’s work is more landscape dominant, yet figures are always present.



To avoid the repetition of subjects and to combat copiers of his work, Claude made drawings of the pictures he sent to all his patrons. On the back of each drawing, he wrote the name of the purchaser. Called the Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth), the volume became a valuable study guide for Claude’s work.  

Claude Lorrain died in Rome in November of 1682, leaving his wealth to his only surviving relatives, a nephew and an adopted daughter (possibly his niece).