Claude Lorrain (French, 1604–1682), The Cowherd, 1636, Etching, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, L.139.2010.8

“The finest landscape etching in the world.”

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts discussing highlights of the exhibition A Celebration of Print: 500 Years of Graphic Art from the Frank Raysor Collection currently on display in VMFA’s Mellon Focus Galleries. Admission to this exhibition is free.

Claude Lorrain is best known today as a painter of austerely beautiful classical landscapes. However, he was also active as an etcher, particularly in his early years before his rise to fame. Here he shows a gentler side as a pastoral poet of nature. The subtle lighting effects he was best known for are especially evident in this highly nuanced print.

According to Philip George Hamerton, the 19th century print historian, Claude Lorrain’s The Cowherd was “For technical quality of a certain delicate kind …the finest landscape-etching in the world” In Hamerton’s opinion “One merit of [Claude Lorrain] is not common in his modern successors – the extreme modesty of his style. No etcher was ever less anxious to produce an impression of cleverness and his only object seems to have been the simple rendering of his ideas. He sincerely loved beauty and grace and tried innocently for these till his touch became gentler than that of a child’s fingers yet so accomplished that the stubborn copper was caressed as it were into a willing obedience.”

Please come see this subtle and beautiful etching for yourselves – and let me know via blogback if you agree with Hamerton…

Dr. Mitchell Merling
Paul Mellon Curator / Head of the Department of European Art