Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection

Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection

Introducing the RWA exhibition, ‘Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection’ and one of the featured artists: Claude Lorrain

Helen Cobby, RWA Marketing department


From 1 April - 4 June the RWA is holding a major exhibition of works on paper from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen. The exhibition celebrates the quality and variety of drawings in this internationally renowned Collection. It does this by showcasing rarely exhibited work by many of the masters of Western European drawing, including Claude, Canaletto, Gainsborough and Sandby, as well as by lesser-known artists. The exhibition also explores different functions and forms of drawing, from highly finished works in their own right to preparatory sketches and unfinished drawings that suggest the artists' working processes. 'Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection' is one of the RWA's three exhibitions based around the practice of drawing, which run concurrently throughout the Spring.

Claude is one of the European masters who is best represented in the exhibition, 'Lines in a Landscape'. This 17th-century painter was called Claude Gellée, but was often referred to as Le Lorrain. This name became associated with him because he was born in the Duchy of Lorraine, now in eastern France, in 1604/5. Claude focused on and developed the genre of the ideal landscape. It is often thought that he is the most influential landscapist of any period. His work frequently included shepherds and flocks, rustic dances, and cameos from myths, legends or the Old Testament, each set against a backdrop of ruined temples, peaceful towns, castles or brooks. The nostalgic light illuminating each of the compositions, and providing pictorial unity to the scenes, is also a trademark of the artist and unique in his time. This handling of light influenced many subsequent painters including JMW Turner (1775 – 1851). A persistent theme in Claude’s work is the autonomy of the natural world and the transience of human activity, again something that can be traced throughout Turner’s own oeuvre.

Claude moved to Rome as a young man and worked there for the majority of his life, initially becoming a studio assistant to the landscape artist and decorative painter Agostino Tassi (c.1579 – 1644). Claude was a popular and successful artist; by 1636 his patrons included Pope Urban VIII and King Philip IV of Spain. Many of his paintings were also collected by British travellers undertaking the Grand Tour. He died in Rome in 1682 after a long career that spanned almost an entire century and saw him produce over a thousand drawings.

There are eight drawings by Claude in the RWA’s exhibition, ‘Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection’. One of these is ‘A Landscape with a Dance’, 1663, 34.3 x 44.4cm (RCIN 913076). It was acquired for the Royal Collection by King George III (1738 – 1820) by 1810. George III was one of the three monarchs responsible for the development of the Collection, along with Charles II and Prince Albert. The artist used a variety of media to create this work: pen and ink, grey and brown washes, and white heightening over black chalk on paper washed buff. This enabled him to portray the pastoral scene with atmospheric depth and detail. Furthermore, the white chalk heightening creates texture as well as highlights on the foliage, prompting the subject matter to appeal to the senses and appear dynamic.

‘A Landscape with a Dance’ is a highly finished work in its own right, and is signed and dated by the artist. However, Claude’s drawings were also made for other functions and took different forms; sketches of Rome and the countryside form one distinctive category. Studies for his paintings (for example, compositional and figure details) and records of his paintings make up two other central strands to his works on paper. The drawings that act as documents of Claude’s paintings are contained within what is called his Liber Veritatis, ‘Book of Truth’, now in the British Museum. It is thought that he may have made this book in order to prevent pastiches being sold; the fact that forgery posed a threat to the artist signals the popularity and value of his work in his own time.

‘Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection’ is open at the RWA from 1 April – 4 June 2017. It runs alongside two other exhibitions, ‘Drawn’ and ‘RWA Collection Drawings’, and ‘Drawing Lab' an interactive, artist-led drawing space.

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Image credit: Claude Gellée, called Le Lorrain (1604/5 – 82), ‘A landscape with a dance (The Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca?)’, c.1663, Pen and ink, grey and brown washes, white heightening, over black chalk, on paper washed buff (RCIN 913076), Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.