Posted by: Merlin PJ20 JAN 2010
One of the 17th-century’s leading landscape painters was the French artist Claude Lorrain (1600–82). His real surname was Gelleé but he took the name Lorrain because he had been born in Lorraine. Much of his work was done in Rome.
Lorrain became immensely popular in England in the 18th century, largely because of his use of subtle gradations of tones. Many artists used a slightly convex tinted mirror, which became known as a Claude glass, to view scenes. It was supposed to help them produce works of art similar to those of Lorrain.
It was said that the use of a Claude glass “gives the object of nature a soft, mellow tinge like the colouring of that Master”. The convex nature of the mirror shaped a large scene into a neat view, and the tinting (which was often sepia or brown) helped artists to see the relative tonal values of the view.
A Claude glass also seems to have been standard equipment for 18th century English tourists doing the grand tour of Europe. It is noteworthy that the viewer had to turn his or her back on the real landscape in order to see the idealised, picturesque view in the Claude glass. Indeed, the term “picturesque” may have originated with the use of the Claude glass. Visitors can see a Claude glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
A haunting novel by Tom Bullough, called ‘The Claude glass’, describes the relationship between two boys in rural Wales who discover a Claude glass in 1980. The tinted, romanticised view of the landscape that they see in the mirror is compared with the lives of a family struggling with the harsh realities of existence in a rural community.