Claude Lorrain, also known as Claude Gell, French artist best known for, and one of the greatest masters of, ideal-landscape painting, an art form that seeks to present a view of nature more beautiful and harmonious than nature itself. The quality of that beauty is governed by classical concepts, and the landscape often contains classical ruins and pastoral figures in classical dress. The source of inspiration is the countryside around Rome - the Roman Campagna - a countryside haunted with remains and associations of antiquity. The practitioners of ideal landscape during the 17th century, the key period of its development, were artists of many nationalities congregated in Rome. Later, the form spread to other countries. Claude, whose special contribution was the poetic rendering of light, was particularly influential, not only during his lifetime but, especially in England, from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century.
Claude Lorrain was born in 1604 or 1605 into poverty in the town of Chamagne, Vosges in Lorraine - then the Duchy of Lorraine, an independent state until 1766. He was one of five children. His actual name was Claude Gellée, but he is better known by the province in which he was born. Orphaned by age of twelve, he went to live at Freiburg with an elder brother, Jean Gellée, a woodcarver. He afterwards went to Rome to seek a livelihood and then to Naples, where he apprenticed for two years, from 1619 to 1621, under Goffredo (Gottfried) Wals. He returned to Rome in April 1625 and was apprenticed to Augustin Tassi. He got into a fight with Leonaert Bramer.
He apparently was able to tour in Italy, France and Germany, including his native Lorraine, suffering numerous misadventures. Claude Deruet, painter to the duke of Lorraine, kept him as assistant for a year; and at Nancy he painted architectural subjects on the ceiling of the Carmelite church.
In 1627 Lorrain returned to Rome. Here, two landscapes made for Cardinal Bentivoglio earned him the patronage of Pope Urban VIII. From about 1637 he rapidly achieved fame as a painter of landscapes and seascapes. He apparently befriended his fellow Frenchman Nicolas Poussin; together they would travel the Roman Campagna, sketching landscapes. Though both have been called landscape painters, in Poussin the landscape is a background to the figures; whereas for Lorrain, despite figures in one corner of the canvas, the true subjects are the land, the sea, and the air. By report, he often engaged other artists to paint the figures for him, including Courtois and Filippo Lauri. He remarked to those purchasing his pictures that he sold them the landscape; the figures were gratis.
In order to avoid repetition of subjects, and also to expose the many spurious copies of his works, he made tinted outline drawings (in six paper books prepared for this purpose) of all those pictures sent to different countries; and on the back of each drawing he wrote the name of the purchaser. These volumes he named the Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth). This valuable work, engraved and published, has always been highly esteemed by students of the art of landscape. Claude, who suffered much from gout, died in Rome on either 21 November or 23 November 1682, leaving his considerable wealth between his only surviving relatives, a nephew and an adopted daughter (possibly his niece). Originally buried in Santissima Trinità al Monte Pincio (commonly known as Trinità al Monte), at top.