Tag Archives | JMW Turner

My Heroes in Art 2 – Claude Lorrain 1604/5 – 1682

Claude Lorrain, Landscape with Shepherds 1644

Claude Lorrain – Landscape with Shepherds 1644

For many years I have admired the work of the old master, Claude Lorrain, or to give him his proper name, Claude Gellee. He was born in either 1604/5 no one is quite sure, in Champagne in the Duchy of Lorraine. (Isn’t that the best place to be born)? He was a French painter, engraver and draughtsman who spent all his adult life living in Rome  where he painted the most sublime landscapes. Foreign artists at that time, were excluded from painting religious works, reserved for the Italians, but that suited Claude’s love of landscape painting. His style was paralelled by his contemporary Nicholas Poussin, also French and living in Rome. Claude, as the English knew him, evolved an original and personal style of landscape painting which by the mid 1630’s had developed into an individual mastery of his art, unrivalled by any of his contemporaries. He liked to sketch outdoors, at dawn and dusk, and make small oil studies, on the spot. He was also one of the first to include the sun in his works. He painted an idyllic, pastoral landscape often contrasted with the bustling activity of a seaport, both united by the use of light and aerial perspective.

Claude Lorrain, Seaport and embarkation of the Queen of Sheba. 1648

Claude Lorrain – Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba 1648

By the 1640’s and 1650’s Claude’s broadening atistic journey became more classical and universal, reaching truly heroic proportions, resulting from his extensive studies of the landscape surrounding Rome. He was now in the mainstream of the high Roman Baroque. In 1635/8 Claude made four paintings for Pope Urban 4th and from this point on his reputation was secured. The English were early collectors of his work. and to date, the largest collections remain in the UK.

JMW Turner and John Constable were both strongly influenced by the paintings of Claude. Constable said “he was the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw”.

There is another reason Claude is an art hero of mine! He invented the ‘Claude Glass’. It was a small piece of glass which was stained by smoke from a fire. He took it out sketching and by looking through it at his proposed subject, he could see only the lightest lights and the darkest darks. All other details were lost. Many artists today squint their eyes, to try to see the tonal values as he did. A composition is much improved by use of correct tonal values.

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How long did you take to paint that?

Broadstairs Sunrise

Sunrise over Broadstairs, Kent in Watercolour

The people who usually ask this question, often have little or no concept of studying in order to learn a craft skill or a profession. It’s a discipline they have never endured or understood. They think that artists are born with magical powers, a gift of God! Of course in reality, we’ve had to learn our craft over many many hours. I used to know a musician who told me it takes approx 4000 hours of learning and practice, to reach a standard, sufficient to play with a local orchestra. Likewise an athlete will spend years, training for an event that could take as little as 10 seconds, in the case of a 100 metre sprint. Who would wish to visit a Doctor who hadn’t spent much of his life learning about medicine? So why are artists assumed to be born with their gifts already in place? Even the masters like JMW Turner, or John Constable, spent many years studying the works of their predecessors, and learning their craft.

Chichester Canal by JMW Turner

Chichester Canal 1828 by JMW Turner, Oil on Canvas

There is unfortunately no quick fix, no way of speeding up the learning process. Just hard graft. At the end of each year, I go through my work and assess if I’m making progress, usually it seems miniscule, but when viewed over a number of years, then real progress can be seen more clearly. I learned early on that it’s no good painting only once a week, to make real progress, I have to sketch or paint as often as possible. Luckily, I enjoy creating art so it’s a real pleasure for me.

Shown here is my interpretation of a spectacular sunrise over the jetty and harbour at Broadstairs. If you click on the photo, It will give you full details and more photos. Then we have Chichester Canal by JMW Turner, painted in oils on canvas in 1828 and currently at the Tate Modern, London. A master work of light and reflection, I think you’ll agree.

So when people ask me “How long did you take to paint that” I usually reply, “about thirty years of practice and one hour of painting”. It’s a shame we can’t charge for the 30 years of practice, like some other professions, but I suppose that’s another story.