The Dictionary of Art © Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996.  All rights reserved.

Claude-Joseph Vernet (b: Avignon, 14 Aug 1714; d: Paris, 4 Dec 1789).  Painter.

1. Life and Work. - (i) Early years and Rome, to1753.  Continued

   Imaginary landscapes and marine pictures account for the larger part of Vernet's output in Italy.  The marine paintings, always set on an Itailanate coast, fall into two contrasting types: calm and storm.  The storm pictures vary, depicting ships either in danger or actually wrecked; the calm views are particularized by their light, atmosphere and time of day or night.  The landscapes also vary in the time of day depicted, but, except for an occasional stormy scene, their weather is benign.  In this way Vernet introduced variety into his art.  His paintings were often conceived as pairs or sets of four; the set (1751; Rohrau, Schloss) commissioned by Aloys Thomas Raimund, Graf von Harrach, and the four ovals (1750; Russborough, Co. Wicklow) commissioned for the country seat of Joseph Leeson, later 1st Earl of Milltown, are typical.  The latter show a calm, morning coastal view, a shipwreck at midday, a rosy evening harbour scene, and a coastal scene by night.  Through such pictures Vernet contributed to a developing sensibility in the 18th century for experiences of Nature in all its moods.

   Where his views were not stricty topographical representations, they strongly suggested sites on the itinerary of many a traveller through Italy: the hilIs and cascades of Tivoli, the harbour, lighthouses and old fortresses of Naples, or the undeveloped coastline near Naples and Rome.  Vernet was the most talented of a number of landscape artists who supplied visitors to Rome with such souvenirs: Pieter van Bloemen and Andrea Locatelli provided Arcadian and pastoral landscapes, while Giovanni Paolo Panini specialized in fanciful pictures of the arts, or its ancient ruins.  Some of Vernet's landscapes are reminiscent of the wild terrain of Rosa's work, while seaports recall those of Claude.  Not only were his own works evocative of well-known sites, their allusiveness in both style and content to the works of admired Old Masters added to their appeal.  In 1750, for example, a Seaport: Sunset (Duke of Buccleuch - private collection) was commissioned to be painted expressly in the manner of Claude.  Some works are recorded as having been commissioned "in tile manner of Salvotor Rosa", while others are clearly reminiscent of Dughet.  Vernet's own pictorial world is less idealized than that of Claude, and there is a sharper sense of particularized observation that the spectator can more readily explore.  He skilfully combined sharp observation with a sure sense of decoration, which meant his paintings worked well in 18th-century interiors such as those at Russborough, Co. Wicklow.  His pleasing effects were managed by juxtaposition of variously textured rocks, pools, cascades, leafy or blasted trees, sandy banks and so on, and above all by finding a rich diversity of brushwork with which to render them.  He had a fine feeling for the medium of oil paint, so that he was enjoyed as a connoisseurs' painter.

   Vernet was recognized by the Roman artistic community, with his election to the Accademia di S Luca in 1743.  Official recognition in his own country began when he was approved (agréé) by the Académie Royale in Paris on 6 August 1746, which enabled him to exhibit at the Salon for the first time that year; on 23 April 1753 he was received (reçu) as a full member.  Exhibiting regularly at the Salon meant that Vernet's work became well known in Paris.  When Abel-François Poisson de Vandières, later the Marquis de Marigny and Directeur des Bâtiments, made his educational tour of Italy in 1750, he and his party visited Vernet's studio in Rome.  Very likely it was then that plans were laid for Vernet's return to France, and for his undertaking a major commission for Louis XV.

Philip Conisbee

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