Landscape with the Voyage of Jacob

This landscape, with its winding river, elegant trees, and grand castle, is an idealized vision of the countryside near Rome, where Claude spent most of his career. All of the artist’s landscapes include narrative subjects: in this case, Jacob’s journey to the land of Canaan. The tiny camels on the right hint at the biblical story, but the painting is essentially a celebration of nature at its most poetic.

Claude Gellée, called Claude Lorrain, was perhaps the most famous landscape painter in Europe in the seventeenth century. Born in Chamagne in the French province of Lorraine, he traveled to Rome as an adolescent and became studio servant and assistant to the landscape painter Agostino Tassi (1566—1642). He also worked for a time in Naples with the German painter Goffredo Wals (c. 1595—1638). Following a brief job in Nancy in his native Lorraine, Claude returned to Rome about 1627 and remained there for virtually the rest of his long and productive life.

Most of Claude’s landscapes are idyllic scenes of golden Italian sunshine, the rolling hills of the Roman Campagna, ancient ruins, and fantasy architecture. They are the settings for peasants, cowherds, and all manner of country life. But these magnificent canvases should not be mistaken for purely joyous landscapes, for included in every one is a biblical or mythological narrative to enhance the dignity and importance of the painting. In Landscape with the Voyage of Jacob, the story of Jacob’s journey to Canaan with his flocks and herds (Genesis 33:12—18) has not been allowed to interrupt the bucolic charm and natural beauty that Claude was intent on rendering. The narrative is relegated to the right middle distance where the camels do not look too incongruous in the lush Italian countryside.

Claude Lorrain’s paintings were in very high demand during nearly all of his career. By the end of his life, his patrons ranged from prelates to princes across Europe, including the pope and the king of Spain. It was probably due in part to his great popularity and the risk of forgery that, about 1636, Claude began keeping a record of his major works. Upon completion of a painting and before it was sent to the buyer, Claude drew a copy for the Liber Veritatis (The Book of Truth), which contains some 195 drawings. Landscape with the Voyage of Jacob is a late work, number 189.

— Steven Kern, excerpted from The Clark: Selections from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Steven Kern et al. (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1996), p. 26.

Provenance

According to the Liber Veritatis, painted for the "abbé Chevallie," probably Dominique Chevalier (1620–1691), prelate of Saint-Martin, Tours; Robert Strange, probably after 1769; Strange sale, Christie's, London, March 6,1773, lot 115; Count Chesterfield, until 1918; by descent to the fifth Earl Carnarvon; Earl Carnarvon sale, Christie's, London, May 31, 1918, lot 97; Leggatt; Colnaghi; sold to Robert Sterling Clark in 1918.

Claude Lorrain

French, 1604/5–1682

Landscape with the Voyage of Jacob

1677

Oil on canvas

28 1/16 x 37 7/16 in. (71.2 x 95.1 cm) Frame: 39 x 48 7/8 x 5 1/8 in. (99.1 x 124.1 x 13 cm)


Acquired by Sterling Clark, 1918

1955.42


ON VIEW