Sunday, 17 December 2017

Claude Lorrain’s etching “Le port de mer a la grosse tour”, 1641

Claude Lorrain (aka Claude Gellée, Claude; Claude Le Lorrain; Claudio di Lorena) (1600–1682)

“Le port de mer a la grosse tour” [Harbour with Large Tower at the Left], 1641, related to painting on copper in the Musée du Louvre (cat. no. P9).

Etching on fine wove paper trimmed along the platemark with fragmentary image (verso) from the 1784 Paris edition of “Stirpes Novae” as is discussed by Lino Mannocci (1988) in “The Etchings of Claude Lorrain” (p. 28) and by H Diane Russell (1982) in “Claude Lorrain 1600–1682” (p. 300).
Size: (sheet) 12.9 x 19.1 cm; (image borderline) 12.6 x 16.6 cm
Numbered outside the image borderline at lower left (partially trimmed off): “9”
State vi (of vi)—based on Gustav Lorenzen’s (1956) advice, cited by Russell (1982, p. 362), that there is a sixth state datable to c1784.

Mannocci 16; Blum 16; Robert-Dumesnil 13; Knab 139; Duplessis 13; Russell 29

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Harbour with a large tower; five sailors in the foreground.”

Condition: rare crisp and virtually faultless impression (i.e. there are no tears, folds, holes, abrasions, stains or foxing). Nevertheless, the back of the print shows marks from where the glue from the print having been mounted in McCreedy’s 1816 folio. The fragment of the coloured engraving from “Stirpes Novae” (1784), which is a hallmark of authenticity in the late impressions taken from the original plates by McCreedy, is arguably delightfully attractive and historically significant.

I am selling this marvellously luminous original etching by Lorrain, for a total cost of AU$383 (currently US$294.75/EUR250.80/GBP221.26 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this famous print by Lorrain, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

Note: I have two impressions of this etching. One of these has the fragment image from “Stripes Novae” (as shown in this post) and the other is blank on the back."

The impression with the fragment of “Stripes Novae” (verso) has been sold but the second impression that is blank verso is not sold

If I were asked what “made” Claude Lorrain’s etchings so valued by late 19th century viewers that he developed a cult-like status akin to the esteem held for Rembrandt's etchings, I would argue that Lorrain’s prints exhibit three critically important visual devices.

Arguably the most important of these visual devices is his use of what is termed “contre-jour” (i.e. arranging the subject so that it is in front of—in the sense of partially obscuring—the sun). In this print, for instance, the arresting aspect of the scene is the fact that the viewer is looking into intense light with the almost silhouetted forms of the ships and figures set against this light creating the expression of sparkling luminosity.

Closely linked to the use of contre-jour is the visual device, “clair-obscur”, or what is also called, “chiaroscuro” (i.e. theatrical lighting involving extreme contrast of light and shade). Here, for example, Lorrain employs heighten tonal contrasts to draw attention to the action of figures in the middle foreground and to simplify the form of the tower on the left.

The third visual device is what is called “croquis” (i.e. loosely drawn/“sketchy” treatment of the portrayed subject). This suggestion of speed and intuitive response in the manner of execution of this print projects an aura of honesty to the portrayed subject.

Beyond these critically important visual devices, I also need to point out how carefully he arranged his compositions. Note, for instance, Lorrain's use of framing devices, such as the tower on the left and the “tall” ships on the right, and the way that he created spatial intervals/pictorial zones that act like stepping-stones inviting a viewer to explore the scene from foreground to distance.
For a very interesting examination of the impact of the above visual devices on late 19th century audiences, I thoroughly recommend reading Alison McQueen’s (2003) fab book, “The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in Nineteenth-Century France” (Amsterdam University Press). 

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