PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF PAUL OPPÉ (1878-1957)
The landscape on the recto is drawn entirely with the brush, in a single shade of brown wash, without any use of pen or chalk for accents, but over the base of a delicate pinkish wash with which the artist prepared the entire recto of the sheet before making his drawing. This pinkish wash, the source of much of the drawing’s serene light and atmosphere, is something that is found in a small proportion of Claude’s landscapes, initially in certain sheets from the so-called ‘Campagna Book,’ a sketchbook reconstructed by Roethisberger and dated by him circa 1638-40, on the basis of the presence in the Book of drawings apparently relating to the view of Civitavecchia commissioned from Claude by Pope Urban VIII.1 Among the great examples of Claude’s landscape drawings formerly in the Norton Simon album were a couple in which the artist employed the same delicate pink wash preparation, notably the splendid sheet now in Williamstown.2 There are also close parallels, in terms of the highly reduced, pure wash drawing technique, with another magnificent view across the Tiber Valley (Private Collection), from the same album, and the View from Monte Mario, in the British Museum.3 The very similar handling, particularly in the background, in a dated drawing of 1640 in the British Museum4 further supports the dating of all these innovative, wash drawings to the same period.
Claude’s experimentation with this highly distinctive, reduced technique can perhaps be linked with his exposure to the innovative drawing style of Bartholomeus Breenbergh, whom Claude must have encountered during the Dutchman’s stay in Rome from 1619 until circa 1629, but it may also have some connection with his origins in Lorraine. Although Claude seems to have travelled to Italy in his early teens, around 1617-18, and worked first in Rome and Naples, with Agostino Tassi and possibly also Goffredo Wals, he did return to Lorraine around 1625-27, where he may have seen and been struck by the wash technique of Jacques Callot, in whose most broadly executed drawings we see a similarly minimalist tendency. Otherwise, the only one of Claude’s contemporaries who seems to have approached anything like this reduction in tonal variation is Poussin, in rare drawings such as the View of The Tiber Valley (formerly at Holkham and now in the Ashmolean Museum), a drawing that was, indeed, long attributed to Claude.5
The black chalk study of a tree on the verso, though no less typical of the artist, is entirely different in technique. A number of Claude’s wash landscapes, including several formerly in the Norton Simon album, have rather slight black chalk sketches on the reverse, but these studies are rarely as developed and evocative as this. Here, with subtle variations in the weight of the chalk lines, Claude has brilliantly created a delicate tree, gently moving in the breeze.
The Oppé drawing was engraved in a combination of etching and mezzotint by Richard Earlom, as plate 50 in the third, supplementary, volume of his great compendium of prints after drawings by Claude, published by John Boydell. The first two volumes, published in 1777, recorded the drawings in Claude's Liber Veritatis, now in the British Museum, while the third volume, which appeared in 1819, added prints after drawings in other English collections. At the time of engraving, the drawing was in the collection of Earl Spencer. Indeed, no fewer than seventeen of the one hundred plates in this volume indicate that the drawing reproduced was then in the Spencer Collection, and although the attribution to Claude of several of them is now questioned or rejected by Roethlisberger, it is clear that the Spencer Collection was home to a significant number of fine drawings by Claude, including six sheets now in the British Museum6, others in the Ashmolean and the Louvre7, and even an early drawing formerly also in the Oppé collection.8 Among these, two in the British Museum9 are notable for their particularly free (in Jon Whiteley’s memorable word, “blottesque”10) wash technique. The Spencer collection of drawings was probably formed by The Hon. John Spencer (1708-1746), father of the first Earl Spencer, and was dispersed at auction in 1811, during the lifetime of George John, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834).11
The love of English Grand Tour collectors for the works of Claude is legendary: Jon Whiteley has calculated that during a seventy-year period, circa 1720-1850, most of the 1,200 or so known drawings by Claude, and around two thirds of his paintings, were imported into England. By this process, the considerable influence of Claude’s scholarly yet moving style, which had so profoundly influenced the work of landscape artists of all schools working in 17th-century Rome, also crossed the English Channel, providing the aesthetic foundation for much of 18th- and 19th-century British landscape art.
This highly atmospheric sheet, with its fine historic English provenance, is among the most poetic examples of the rarest and most original type of drawing in all of Claude’s œuvre.
1. Roethlisberger, op. cit., pp. 59-61
2. Ibid., no. 551
3. Ibid., nos. 425 and 326 respectively
4. Ibid., no. 422
5. Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. W.A. 1992.10; P. Rosenberg & L.A. Prat, Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665. Catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan 1994, no. 289
6. Roethlisberger, op. cit., nos. 64, 97, 278, 430, 924 & 1092
7. Ibid., nos. 109 & 424
8. Ibid., no. 25
9. Ibid., nos. 97, 278
10. J.J.L. Whiteley, Claude Lorrain. Drawings from the Collections of the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, London 1998, p. 62
11. Sale, London, Th. Philipe, 10 June 1811 and 7 following days: "Superb cabinet of drawings, the entire collection of a nobleman, formed with refined taste and judgment about the middle of the last century”.
12. Whiteley, op. cit., p. 10
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