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Object: The dance on the river-bank.

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Title The dance on the river-bank.
Production Lorrain, Claude (artist), circa 1634, Italy
Medium summary etching
Materials ink, paper
Classification prints, etchings, landscapes, works on paper
Technique etching
Dimensions Plate: 132mm (Height) x 199mm (Width)
Support: 148mm (Height) x 216mm (Width)
Credit line Gift of Bishop Monrad, 1869
Registration number 1869-0001-87

Claude Lorrain born Claude Gellée, called le Lorrain in French; traditionally just Claude in English (c. 1600–1682) was a French painter, draughtsman and engraver of the Baroque era. He spent most of his life in Italy, and is one of the earliest important artists, apart from his contemporaries in Dutch Golden Age painting, to concentrate on landscape painting. His landscapes are often turned into the more prestigious genre of history paintings by the addition of a few small figures, typically representing a scene from the bible or classical mythology.

By the end of the 1630s he was established as the leading landscapist in Italy, and enjoyed high prices for his work. These gradually became larger, but with fewer figures, more carefully painted, and produced at a lower rate. Almost all his painting was done in Italy; before the late 19th century he was regarded as a painter of the "Roman School". His patrons were also mostly Italian, but after his death he became very popular with English collectors, and the UK retains a high proportion of his works. 

He was a prolific creator of drawings in pen and very often monochrome watercolour "wash", usually brown but sometimes grey. His studies for paintings are of various degrees of finish, many clearly done before or during the process of painting, but others perhaps after that was complete. This was certainly the case for the last group, the 195 drawings recording finished paintings collected in his Liber Veritatis (now British Museum). He produced over 40 etchings, often simplified versions of paintings, mainly before 1642. These were till recently widely regarded as much less important than his drawings, though art collector and historian Andrew Brink has powerfully argued that not only do they match the mastery and execution of Claude's paintings, but are seminal to the establishment of 17th- and 18th-century aesthetics in England. This gave rise to the English pictorialism in art and landscape architecture that would have international influence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Put simply, go to an English country house garden and be reminded of a Claude painting or etching!

Dance on the river-bank epitomises the idyllic qualities of Claude's favourite locale, the Roman Campagna, and his usual cast of characters - rustic figures enjoying themselves. Here a couple are dancing to the music of a musette (small bagpipes), their symmetry wittily echoed by a pair of goats locking horns. Two other couples join the cast of characters. Are they all lovers? An attractive old mill and tower help provide a pictureseqe backdrop and the scenery idyllically melts away into the distance. Te Papa owns two impressions of this print. This one is part of the foundation Colonial Museum art collection, presented by Bishop Ditlev Monrad in 1869, and the other was donated by Sir John Ilott (1964-0001-28).


Andrew Brink, Ink and Light: The Influence of Claude Lorrain's Etchings on England (Montreal, 2013) spired-our-greatest-landscapes-2374938.html


Dr Mark Stocker     Curator, Historical International Art       June 2017

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