The French school of painting does not date earlier than the sixteenth century, and the painters of that time were few in number, and little is known of them. Before the time when a French school could be said to exist the kings of France employed foreign artists to decorate their palaces and churches, and they naturally turned to the Italians for all that they needed. Hence it happened that in its earliest days the French school was almost entirely under Italian influence, and I shall first speak of French masters who studied in Italy.

Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) may be said to belong to the seventeenth century, since he was born so late in the preceding one. Poussin was born in Normandy, and early began to draw and paint. He studied somewhat in France, and when thirty years old went to Rome, where, in reality, his artistic career began. He was a pupil of Andrea Sacchi, and received some instruction from Domenichino also; but he formed his style principally by studying the works of the ancients and those of the great Raphael. He was so devoted to the study of the habits and customs of the Greeks that he almost became one of them in his modes of thought.

Fig 67 Fig. 67.—Arcadian Shepherds. Poussin.

He was very poor when he first went to Rome; but he worked hard, and began to be known and to receive orders for pictures. Louis XIII. heard of Poussin, and invited him to Paris, where he gave him apartments in the Tuileries. But the artist longed to return to Rome, and made a plea of going for his wife. Soon after he left, Louis died, and Poussin never returned to France. Poussin was always busy; but he asked such moderate prices that he was never rich, and, when a great man pitied the artist because he had so few servants, Poussin pitied him in return for having so many. His portrait painted by himself is in the Louvre, where are many of his mythological pictures. His love for the classic manner makes these subjects his best works. His paintings are seen in many European galleries.

Claude Lorraine (1600-1682), whose real name was Claude Gelée, was born in Champagne in Lorraine. His parents were very poor, and died when he was still young: he was apprenticed to a pastry-cook, and so travelled to Rome as servant to some young gentlemen. Not long after his arrival he engaged himself to the painter Agostino Tassi, for whom he cooked, and mixed colors. After a time he himself began to paint. Nature was his teacher; he studied her with unchanging devotion; he knew all her changes, and was in the habit of sitting for a whole day watching one scene, so that he could paint from memory its different aspects at the various hours of the day. His works brought him into notice when he was still young. He received many orders, and when about twenty-seven years old some pictures he painted for Pope Urban VIII. established his fame as an artist of high rank. His character was above reproach, and his feelings were as tender as many of his pictures. He was attractive in person, though his face was grave in its expression. It would seem that he should have left a large fortune, but he did not. This was partly because he suffered much from gout, and was often unable to paint; but a better reason probably is that he gave so much to his needy relations that he could not save large sums.

Claude Lorraine has been called the prince and poet of landscape painters. Lübke, the German art writer, praises him very much, and his praise is more valuable than it would be if it came from one of Claude’s own countrymen. He says: “Far more profoundly than all other masters did Claude Gelée penetrate into the secrets of nature, and by the enchanting play of sunlight, the freshness of his dewy foregrounds, and the charm of his atmospheric distances, he obtained a tone of feeling which influences the mind like an eternal Sabbath rest. In his works there is all the splendor, light, untroubled brightness, and harmony of the first morning of creation in Paradise. His masses of foliage have a glorious richness and freshness, and even in the deepest shadows are interwoven with a golden glimmer of light. But they serve only as a mighty framework, for, more freely than with other masters, the eye wanders through a rich foreground into the far distance, the utmost limits of which fade away in golden mist.”

His two great charms are the immense space which he represents in his pictures and his beautiful color. The latter appears as if he had first used a silvery gray, and then put his other colors over that, which gives his works a soft, lovely atmospheric effect, such as no other artist has surpassed. When he introduced buildings into his pictures they were well done; but his figures and animals were so imperfect that he was accustomed to say that he sold the landscape, and gave away the figures.

Before his death his pictures were so much valued that other artists tried to imitate them, and he was accustomed to keep a book of sketches by which his works could be proved. He called this book “Liber Veritatis,” and before his death it reached six volumes; one of these containing two hundred drawings is at Chatsworth. A catalogue of his works describes more than four hundred landscapes. All the principal galleries of Europe have his pictures, and there are a great number of them in England, both in public and private collections.