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Claude Lorrain’s Sunrise in Melville’s copy of The Wonders of Engraving

MBB 3.1 duplessis claude sunrise jpg.jpg

MBB 3.1. Reproduction of Claude’s etching Sunrise facing page 250 in Melville’s copy of Georges Duplessis, The Wonders of Engraving, 1871 (Sealts no. 195). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

This example shows as well as any the rich visual interplay between Melville’s print collection and his book collection. Duplessis supported his assertion of Claude’s unsurpassed skill with the etching needle by reproducing Sunrise (listed as The Sun Rising, 1634, no. 15 in Dullea’s Appendix D). Here we have a harbor scene whose essential elements are very similar to those in Harbour with a large tower (CAT 121) but which conveys an entirely different kind of feeling because of the effect of the rising sun (whose brightening effect is seen even in the lap of the woman sitting on the far left, at the same time that it sets in shadow the men who are maneuvering the boat and laying out the planks in the foreground). Duplessis offered this image as one of those etchings by Claude “which have all the qualities of his paintings. . . . With the same easy grace his needle has rendered the lucid water, the solid buildings, the leaves quivering in the wind; the air seems to pervade everything; the artist engraved as he would have painted without caring about correct strokes and neat outlines. He softens the tones before him whilst faithfully rendering them, he takes his inspiration direct from nature, and his poetic spirit does the rest. At no time has landscape been treated with such majesty, grace, and bold simplicity” (253).