Four Seaports after Claude
The four Claudean seaport scenes in this section were all in the homes of direct descendants of Herman Melville when I saw them for the first time. The surprising absence of any images after Claude Lorrain in the first group of 278 prints that surfaced from the Berkshire Athenaeum in 1986 was bountifully answered from the prints that emerged from the collections of Priscilla Ambrose, Bart Chapin, and Melville Chapin in the 1990s.
After I had published my inventory of the prints at the Berkshire Athenaeum, Hershel Parker suggested that Priscilla Ambrose, a great-granddaughter of Melville living in Irving, Virginia, might still be preserving prints from his collection. Soon after I inquired, she invited me to visit. What a joy it was to see two atmospheric seaport scenes from Richard Earlom’s celebrated 1774-75 edition of Claude’s Liber Variorum (CAT 124 and 125) in her living room. John Ruskin would have been happy to see that Priscilla also had engravings of two dramatic seaport scenes by J. M. W. Turner (Dutch Boats in a Gale and Calais Pier, CAT numbers to be assigned) to compare with them. She had also been preserving two atmospheric landscapes after Herman Swanevelt, Claude’s longtime colleague and housemate (CAT 209 and 210), and another by Richard Wilson, one of Claude's earliest English followers (CAT number to be assigned). These prints in the Ambrose Collection were already introducing me not only to two of the most beautiful prints after Claude’s Liber Veritatis but also to the wider pictorial context in which Melville had collected them (see Wallace, “The Ambrose Group,” 1995, 13-50).
Seeing two celebrated prints after Claude Lorrain in the Ambrose Collection in April 1994 made me hope and expect that other prints after Claude might emerge in the personal collections of other descendants. Sure enough, the Bart Chapin Collection that I visited in Maine two months later had five prints by or after Claude. Two of those were etchings by Claude that we saw in our previous section (CAT 122 and 123). Bart Chapin was also preserving three of Melville’s engravings after Claude: one of the seaport scenes featured in this section (CAT 126) and two additional engravings in sections to follow (CAT 132 and 135).
The visit to Bart Chapin in 1994 led me to the home of his older brother Melville (Mel) Chapin in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one year later. There I had the pleasure of seeing seven more engravings after Claude from Melville’s collection. One of five unframed prints is one of the four seascapes in this section (CAT 125). The two framed engravings I saw in Cambridge are the subject of our next section (CAT 128 and 129).
One of Melville’s seaport scenes after Claude (CAT 124) derived from the painting of a Harbour Scene, now lost, that Claude had “apparently dated Naples 1636.” Roethlisberger suggests that Claude’s stay in Naples “was probably a short one,” since all his Liber drawings were signed in Rome, but he does note that “five works inscribed pour Napoli from 1636 to 1639 might suggest that the commissions were placed when he was there” (Paintings, LV 6, pp. 106-07). The essay in The Art-Journal in 1859 that accompanied Melville’s engraving of another early Claudean harbor scene, The Sea-Port from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (CAT 126), declared that Claude had spent two years in Naples “gaining proficiency in the knowledge of perspective” (“A Sea-Port,” 52). The atmospherics of these and other prints after Claude’s early seaport scenes might well have reminded Melville of the atmospherics of the Bay of Naples he had experienced directly in April 1857—and that he could later revisit in his home in New York City in his copy of the color lithograph of Samuel Read’s Bay of Naples that had been published in The London Illustrated News in 1860 (CAT 120).
Claude’s 1639 oil painting An Artist Studying from Nature, now at the Cincinnati Art Museum (fig. 1), offers unique insight into his development as a painter of seaports.