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Three Etchings by Claude

We are beginning our Claude Lorrain section with three images etched by the artist himself. These images for that reason would have had special meaning for Melville; the other twelve prints in this section were made by engravers who translated a painting or drawing by Claude into a print medium. The copy of Dullea’s Claude Gellée Le Lorrain that Melville acquired in 1887 had detailed appendices enumerating, and distinguishing among, Claude’s etchings, paintings, and drawings.

I saw my first two etchings by Claude Lorrain from Melville’s collection (CAT 122 and 123) on June 10, 1994, in Bath, Maine. They were being preserved in the home of Melville’s great-grandson E. Barton Chapin Jr. “Bart” was a warm and genial man who took great pleasure in showing me the thirty-plus prints that had descended to him from Herman and Elizabeth Melville through their daughter Frances (Melville) Thomas and her daughter Jeanette Ogden (Thomas) Chapin. Several years after my visit, Bart and his wife Jane (Woodman) Chapin invited me back to Bath so I could examine the prints more closely and have them photographed by a local photographer (Melville McLean) for publication in the essay on the “E. Barton Chapin, Jr., Family Collection” that appeared in the March 2000 issue of Leviathan. The prints that Bart and Jane Chapin had lovingly preserved throughout their lifetimes are now being preserved by their three children in three different states, as indicated in the Print Identification section of our catalog entries for the respective prints.

The third etching by Claude Lorrain I saw from Melville’s collection was a complete surprise. In 1985, T. Walter Herbert Jr., and Jon D. Swartz had published a small catalog documenting four prints from Melville’s collection in The Osborne Collection of Melville Materials at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. These had been donated by Duncan Osborne, a direct descendant of Herman Melville’s granddaughter Frances Cuthbert (Thomas) Osborne. When I wrote to the University for more details about the prints, archivist Kathryn Stallings mentioned five other prints that had not been exhibited or cataloged in 1985 because they were disfigured by various scrapes and stains.

When I traveled to Texas to examine those prints, I discovered three engravings prints after J. M. W. Turner, one etching by Jacob van Ruisdael, and one etching by Claude Lorrain. I had the pleasure of meeting Duncan Osborne and his wife Betty on this visit. As soon as Duncan learned the pictorial and imaginative value of the five damaged prints, he had them restored as closely as possible to their original condition. Immediately below is Claude’s Le Port de mer à la grosse tour before restoration (fig. 1). The restored print (CAT 121) begins our next entry.

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Fig. 1. Claude Lorrain, Le Port de mer à la grosse tour, etching from Herman Melville’s print collection. Osborne Collection of Melville Materials at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas. Study photo in 2002, before restoration.

In addition to having been etched by artist himself, the three etchings in this section introduce themes and subjects important to Claude throughout his career. One is a harbor scene looking directly into the sun, one is a cityscape animated by daily life framed by ancient monuments, and one is a pastoral scene in the open air. The luminous harbor scene is one of many in Claude’s career—and in Melville’s collection of engravings after Claude. The animated cityscape is rare in the degree to which Claude followed the painting of another artist, Herman Swanevelt (who is also represented in Melville’s print collection). The open-air pastoral scene is one of hundreds in Claude’s career, but one of the few depicting stormy weather. One thing they all have in common is that Melville’s direct descendants preserved them for more than a century after his death so we can see and savor them ourselves.