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View of a Sea Port during a Sun-set


CAT 124. Richard Earlom after Claude Lorrain. View of a Sea Port during a Sun-set. From the Original Drawing in the Collection of the Duke of Devonshire. No. 6 in the Liber Veritatis. London: John Boydell, 1774. Ambrose Family Collection.

The similarity in subject highlights the contrast in media between Claude’s etchings of his own seaport scenes and Earlom’s engravings in etching and mezzotint. Earlom, like Claude, was using Claude’s own Liber Veritatis drawings as a guide. A century after Claude had drawn them, those drawings were now in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire in England. Earlom’s prints after two hundred of those drawings were published by John Boydell in London in two volumes in 1775 and 1776, followed by a third volume in 1819. The two Earlom seaport scenes that Melville collected, View of a Seaport during a Sun-set and Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, had been published as individual prints in 1774 and 1775, respectively. I have cataloged them in the chronological order in which the separate prints were published (and in which the original paintings from which they derive were painted), although it was tempting to reverse that order and begin with the rising, rather than the setting, sun.

Earlom’s 1774 View of a Sea Port during a Sun-set is based on the Harbour Scene that Claude drew for his Liber Veritatis (LV 6) after an 1836 oil painting, now lost. Roethlisberger notes that “the buildings of this composition are imaginary. The fountain has the form of an antique tomb. The flags bear no arms” (Paintings, p. 106). Both the Liber drawing and the lost painting therefore date from the same period as Claude’s etchings of Harbour with a large tower and Sunrise. In each image, Claude had depicted boats, bales, and men working on the edge of an embracing bay in intimate action framed by large ships, towers, and buildings on either side. Earlom’s etching with mezzotint differs from either of Claude’s etchings in the smoothness of the texture, the softness of the water, and the mellowness of the glow of the setting sun that bathes the whole scene, casting long shadows from the boats and laying a soft white path of light down the middle of the image from the distant horizon to the edge of the shore, lighting the edge of the small boat on the way to the land. The men with the bales and boats and poles and lines are too engaged to savor the solar effects that Claude presents so warmly to his viewer. Even the sole fisherman across the inlet to the left is facing away from the suffusing light as he feels, rather than sees, the passing of another day.

Earlom in this print was able to capture to an exceptional degree the mellowness with which Claude had depicted the setting sun in the Liber drawing of this Harbor Scene. In doing so, he successfully reproduced the quality of Claude’s artistry that most impressed Melville when he visited the Sciarra Gallery in Rome on March 7, 1857. Of those paintings in Claude’s “first manner” that he saw there, Melville wrote in his journal: “All their effect is of atmosphere. He paints the air” (NN J 109).