This drawing of an unidentified wooded vista of the Roman countryside is one of the most lyrical and accomplished of Claude's pure landscape compositions. First published by Marcel Roethlisberger in 1973 who considers it '...one of the most ravishing examples from what we call Claude's nature drawings...' (correspondence, 3 October 2012), it was once part of the so-called Wildenstein Album which included some of the finest drawings in Claude's oeuvre. The present sheet is thought to have been executed around 1640-42 when Claude was at the height of his powers and most active as an observer and recorder of the Roman campagna. It is an exceptional example of the 17th Century classical tradition. It is in a remarkable state of preservation owing to the fact that it was kept in an album for over three centuries, and has a provenance extending back almost to the artist's lifetime.
Claude is known to have made drawings and even oil sketches while exploring the Roman countryside as early as the 1630s and he was most prodigious in his output of landscape drawings during the 1640s when this drawing was made. The German artist Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688) wrote about visiting the countryside with Claude in the late 1620s and early 1630s when Claude made sketches in oil (none of which is extant). The art historian Filippo Baldinucci (1624-1696) after visiting Claude at the end of his life when he was debilitated by gout, wrote about sketching expeditions Claude made earlier in his career.
Throughout his lifetime Claude's technique and method as a draughtsman varied depending on the purpose of the drawing. The present sheet can be seen as a sort of hybrid between the purely observed landscape done in situ, and the more composed, idealized scenes deriving from a more literary, Arcadian tradition. As is often the case with his landscape drawings, this sheet is not connected to any known painting by Claude, nor does it have an inscription that would identify its location or date of execution.
Even Claude's most seemingly obvious plein air sketches display a technical complexity and visual sophistication that belie a purely spontaneous, rapid execution. In the present sheet, the lightly but confidently applied brown pen lines are augmented by varying gradations of brown wash and strokes of white bodycolor highlights. Together they create a broadly atmospheric effect where light and shadow play across the foliage, tree bark, hills and sky. Much of the pen drawing could have been done outdoors (there is no evidence of any black chalk underdrawing), with perhaps the wash and white heightening added by him in the studio. Certain pictorial elements -- the brown ink framing lines, the empty wedge of land in the foreground before the unfurling landscape -- also suggest a composed thoughtfulness to the scene. However, the dappled light across the page indicate immediate observation and execution.
This drawing can be compared with several other superb wooded landscape studies from the early 1640s such as ones in the British Museum, Teyler Museum, Haarlem, and Uffizi (M. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: the drawings, Berkeley, 1968, I, pp. 185, 201; II, pl. 417, 419, 472r). It is especially close in layout to the Uffizzi drawing in the framing-like effect of the tree branches and leaves in the foreground which open onto a hilly landscape beneath a cloud-filled sky. However, the present sheet is distinct from the above-mentioned sheets and is exceptional as a pure landscape drawing to be done on blue paper with white heightening. There are several examples of wash landscape drawings on blue or tinted paper (and nearly half the Liber Veritatis was executed on blue paper) which Professor Roethilsberger describes Claude using '...for particularly beautiful drawings or for special effects of the light, and not for sketches' (M. Roethlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Wildenstein Album, Paris, 1962, p. 27; see nos. 9, 38, 42). On the other hand pen and ink and wash landscape sketches on blue paper with white heightening are exceedingly rare. He used this particular combination more frequently in highly finished compositional drawings which also included figures or mythological subjects.
Most of Claude's drawings were still in his possession when he died in 1682, and they were assembled -- either during his lifetime or soon after by his heirs -- into twelve bound albums of about 80 sheets each. Since the 17th Century only the Liber Veritatis (British Museum) remains intact. The present sheet was once part of the so-called Wildenstein Album which came to light when a bound group of sixty drawings by Claude was acquired by the Wildentein Gallery in 1960, and first published by Roethlisberger (op. cit., 1962). The drawings in the Wildenstein Album span Claude's entire career and are noted for their exceptional quality. They include compositional drawings, nature and figure studies. As such, they are thought to have been compiled as an overview of his career possibly by Claude or his heirs. In the 17th Century it came into the possession of Queen Christina of Sweden (1629-1689). The album subsequently passed to her heir, Cardinal Decio Azzolini (1623-1689), and was then sold to Livio Odescalchi, Duke of Bracciano (1652-1713) in whose family it remained until the last century.
The album is believed to be one of those recorded in the 1713 Odescalchi inventory. The total number of extant drawings corresponds to the number '81' which is inscribed on the first page of the album. In addition to the sixty sheets bought by Wildenstein, the original album included eight drawings which were sold to the London dealer Hans Calmann around 1957/58 and thirteen additional drawings. This drawing was from the latter group and was acquired by John Gaines (1929-2005) in whose sale it appeared in 1986, its last appearance at auction.
We are grateful to Professor Marcel Roethlisberger for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.