1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vernet

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VERNET, the name of three eminent French painters.

I. Claude Joseph Vernet (1714–1789), who was born at Avignon on the 14th of August 1714, when only fourteen years of age aided his father, a skilful decorative painter, in the most important parts of his work. But the panels of sedan chairs could not satisfy his ambition, and he started for Rome. The sight of the sea at Marseilles and his voyage thence to Civita Vecchia made a deep impression on him, and immediately after his arrival he entered the studio of a marine painter, Bernardino Fergioni. Slowly but surely Claude Joseph made his way and attracted notice. With a certain conventionality in design, proper to his day, he allied the results of constant and honest observation of natural effects of atmosphere, which he rendered with unusual pictorial art. Perhaps no painter of landscapes or sea-pieces has ever made the human figure so completely a part of the scene depicted or so important a factor in his design. “Others may know better,” he said, with just pride, “how to paint the sky, the earth, the ocean; no one knows better than I how to paint a picture.” For twenty years Vernet lived on in Rome, producing views of seaports, storms, calms, moon- lights, &c, when he was recalled (1753) to Paris, and executed, by royal command, the remarkable series of the seaports of France (Louvre) by which he is best known. On his return he became a member of the academy, but he had previously con- tributed to the exhibitions of 1746 and following years, and he continued to exhibit, with rare exceptions, down to the date of his death, which took place in his lodgings in the Louvre on the 3rd of December 1789. Amongst the very numerous en- gravers of his works may be specially cited Le Bas, Cochin, Basan, Duret, Flipart and Le Veau in France, and in England Vivares.

II. Antoine Charles Horace Vernet (1758–1835), commonly called Carle, the youngest child of the above-named, was born at Bordeaux in 1758, where his father was painting the view from the chateau of La Trompette (Louvre). He showed, at the age of five, an extraordinary passion for drawing horses, but went through the regular academical course as a pupil of Lepicie. Strangely enough, on arriving in Italy after carrying off the grand prix (1782), he lost all ambition and interest in his profession, so that his father had to recall him to France to prevent his entering a monastery. In Paris Carle Vernet became himself again, and distinguished himself at the exhibition of 1791 by his “Triumph of Paulus Aemilius,” a work in which he broke with reigning traditions in classical subjects and drew the horse with the forms he had learnt from nature in stables and riding-schools. But the Revolution drew on, and Carle Vernet's career for awhile seemed to end in the anguish of his sister's death on the scaffold. When he again began to produce, it was as the man of another era: his drawings of the Italian campaign brought him fresh laurels; his vast canvas, the “Battle of Marengo,” obtained great success; and for his “Morning of Austerlitz” Napoleon bestowed on him the Legion of Honour. His hunting-pieces, races, landscapes, and work as a lithographer (chiefly under the Restoration) had also a great vogue. From Louis XVIII. he received the order of St Michael. In 1827 he accompanied his son Horace (see below) to Rome, and died in Paris on his return, on the 17th of November 1835.

III. Émile Jean Horace Vernet (1789–1863), commonly called Horace, born in Paris on the 30th of June 1789, was one of the most characteristic, if not one of the ablest, of the military painters of France. He was just twenty when he exhibited the “Taking of an Entrenched Camp” a work which showed no depth of observation, but was distinguished by a good deal of character. His picture of his own studio (the rendezvous of the Liberals under the Restoration), in which he represented himself painting tranquilly, whilst boxing, fencing, drum- and horn-playing, &c, were going on, in the midst of a medley of visitors, horses, dogs and models, is one of his best works, and, together with his “Defence of the Barrier at Clichy” (Louvre), won for him an immense popularity. Enjoying equal favour with the court and with the opposition, he was most improperly appointed director of the school of France at Rome, from 1828 to 1835, and thither he carried the atmosphere of racket in which he habitually lived. After his return the whole of the Constantine room at Versailles was decorated by him, in the short space of three years. This vast work shows Vernet at his best and at his worst: as a picture it begins and ends nowhere and the composition is all to pieces; but it has good qualities of faithful and exact representation. He died at Paris on the 17th of January 1863. The twenty works which were exhibited after his death confirmed his reputation for extraordinary facility; he had tried every sort of subject, showing affinity for all that was anecdotic rather than dramatic, failing most wherever most was demanded of him, and never reaching either beauty of colour or dignity of line. Vernet was, in short, a brilliant off-hand sketcher of all he saw, as he said himself, “from his window,” and even in this work there was a good deal of affectation of the impromptu.

See Lagrange, Joseph Vernet et la peinture au XVIIIᵉ siècle (1861); C. Blanc, Les Vernet (1845); A. Dayot, Les Vernet (1898).