I Will Miss My Favourite Painting

When asked to choose the artwork that I will miss the most from 100 Masters: Only in Canada, I am given a seemingly impossible task as they really are all my favourites, carefully selected to showcase five centuries of extraordinary artmaking on two continents. However, when pushed to answer this question, there are certain works that have become my personal favourites during the course of the exhibition – pieces that have left me feeling enriched, delighted, and, in a way, transformed. When we discover a discrete work drawn from the larger group, we are reminded how each one has the power to command our attention and lead the exploration. And this is why I am able to select one from the rest and say it has become my favourite.

Coast View with Embarkation of Carlo and Ubaldo by the seventeenth-century French artist Claude Lorrain is perhaps the one painting that I will miss the most. Visitors may recall it is installed next to the Rembrandt in the first gallery of the exhibition, and, hung beside the great Dutch Old Master, it might be easily overlooked or overpowered, but once you approach the landscape, you know why it’s in this exhibition. Looking out at the tranquil scene with the figures on the shore, you are immediately transported to the enchanted seaside locale that Claude has chosen as a setting for the story.

The subject is taken from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem, Jerusalem Delivered, one of the masterworks of sixteenth-century literature, based on the first Crusade of the eleventh century. The scene depicted here takes place in Canto 15, after Godfrey has selected the knights Carlo and Ubaldo to search for Rinaldo. Armida, who has fallen in love with Rinaldo, transports him by chariot to the Fortunate Islands. At this moment in the story, we see Carlo and Ubaldo standing on the shore of a small inlet, while Fortune waits in the boat in the water. It is a beautiful scene; the morning light, aided by a fine mist that moves across the water and breaks near the shore, unites every element of the landscape. Captured here is the serene, ideal world of Claude’s late paintings in which a harsher morning or evening illumination has given way to a more subtle light, marked by complex layers of colour and tone. In the quietness of the morning light, the artist conveys the rhythm of the waves hitting the shore and the soft wind moving through the trees. There are no special effects or lighting here – just Claude’s remarkable ability to capture the power and beauty of nature and our place within it.

Claude Lorrain’s contribution to the landscape genre was nothing short of perfection. His poetic portrayal of the ideal landscape has rarely been surpassed, and he is widely recognized as the greatest landscape painter. He was certainly the most influential figure in French landscape painting, and the Claudian manner is celebrated as an important tradition in the history of European painting. And what better artist to include in 100 Masters. Almost every time I walk through the exhibition (and those trips are countless), I pause in front of this landscape – and I am never disappointed by what I see, feel, or take away. This is definitely the painting I will miss the most.

Claude Gellée, called Claude Lorrain, French, 1600–1682, Coast View with Embarkation of Carlo and Ubaldo, 1667. Oil on canvas, 92.7 x 138.4 cm. Gift of Group Captain H. L. Cooper, AFC, Salisbury, England, in appreciation of the contribution of Canadians in the Armed Forces in the two World Wars, 1962; 62/12. Lent by: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto


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