Lot 95
  • 95

Claude-Joseph Vernet

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Claude-Joseph Vernet
  • Mediterranean harbor at sunset with the artist, his daughter Emilie Chalgrin, his son Carle Vernet, his daughter-in-law, Fanny Moreau, and his servant Saint-Jean, on a pier, a lighthouse and a natural arch beyond
  • signed and dated, lower left: j. vernet / F. 1788

  • oil on canvas

  • 34 1/4 x 44 3/4 inches


Commissioned with its pendant The Storm from the artist by Mr. Pope (or Paupe), by 1788;
His sale, Paris, 30 January 1792, lot 12 (sold together with its pendant for 6430 livres);
Laurent Gaspard Grimod de la Reynière;
His sale, Paris, 3 April 1793, lot 174 (sold together with its pendant for 8000 livres);
Anonymous sale, Paris, 27-28 November 1816, lot 34 (the pendant sold as lot 35);
Hugh Burton-Jones, before 1947;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, ("Property of a Gentleman"), 10 July 1998, lot 43, illustrated on the front cover of catalogue;
There purchased by the present collector.


Paris, Salon of 1789, no. 20 (with its pendant): Deux tableaux: l'un, une Mer calme au coucher du soleil, avec un groupe de figures sur le devant, qui est la famille de l'auteur: l'autre une tempête avec le naufrage d'un vaisseau.


L. Lagrange, Joseph Vernet et la peinture au XVIIIe siècle avec le texte des Livres de Raison et un grand nombre de documents inédits, Paris 1864, pp. 274, 358, 474-475, and c. 314 from the Livre de Raison;
Ingersoll-Smouse, Joseph Vernet, peintre de Marine, Paris 1926, vol. II, p. 42, no. 1172
J.-F. Heim, C. Beraud and P. Heim, Les Salons de Peinture de la Révolution Française 1789-1799, Paris 1989, p. 375.


The painting is slightly brighter than it appears in the printed catalogue. For a high resolution digital image, please refer to the online catalogue at Sothebys.com or contact a member of the Old Master Paintings department. The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting is in lovely condition. The canvas has an effective glue lining, and the paint layer is well supported. There is no abrasion or weakness to the paint layer, and the details are extremely well preserved throughout the work. Although there are a few spots of retouching in the upper left and in the upper right edge, this is essentially a picture with no damages and no other restorations.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This serene harbor scene was commissioned by Claude-Joseph Vernet’s venerated patron and friend, Mr. Pope, and completed in 1788, along with its pendant, The Storm with a Shipwrecked Boat (the location of which is currently unknown).  Vernet included a portrait of himself and his family in the painting, promenading on the quay and watching the fishermen as they pull in their boats at sunset (see detail).  A Parisian textile dealer, Mr. Pope (or Paupe) was a keen collector of Flemish, Dutch and French pictures.   The two met around 1778 and Pope soon became a great admirer of Vernet’s work, acquiring some twenty paintings by the artist in the following decade.

Creating idealized landscapes, sublimely lit with intensely emotive skies, Vernet was more concerned with the invention of a sensitively balanced composition than with topographical accuracy.  Characteristically, this painting was conceived as a pair: the present canvas, depicting a calm, dusky sky and tranquil waters, was intended to compliment the furore of The Storm's fulminating clouds and tumultuous sea.  The figures, whether serenely working in the evening light, or perilously shipwrecked as in the accompanying pendant, are dwarfed by the potent majesty of Nature.

It was not unknown for Vernet to incorporate self-portraits into his views, indeed he included a likeness of himself alongside his wife among the spectators in the lower right hand corner of his A Sporting Contest on the Tiber, Rome (National Gallery, London, inv. no. NG236, see fig. 1).  The figures in the present canvas, painted with Vernet’s characteristic spontaneity of expression and gesture, are identified by the artist’s biographer as, “Vernet lui-même, sa fille, madame Chalgrin, Carle Vernet avec sa femme, mademoiselle Moreau, et un domestique, sans doute le fidèle Saint-Jean”1  Vernet, then aged seventy-four, painted himself in a tricorn hat and red dress coat, his left hand in his breast pocket, his right foot stepping forward directly above the initials of his signature.  He looks out fixedly across the bay with a paintbrush in his right hand, poised and concentrating as though drafting the landscape in his memory.  Beside him, in a white dress carrying a dusky pink parasol, his beloved eighteen year old daughter, Émilie (1760-1794) looks fondly at her father.  Two years earlier, Émilie had married the celebrated architect, Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin (1739 –1811), a prolific draftsman perhaps best known for his designs for the Arc de Triomphe in Place de l'Étoile, Paris.  Mercifully, Vernet did not live to see the demise of his cherished only daughter, tragically led to the guillotine in 1794; having been falsely accused of possessing furniture belonging to the Révolution, she was executed at the age of thiry-four leaving one son.

The jovial figure standing slightly to the left of the group is almost certainly Vernet’s trusted servant, Saint-Jean who faithfully attended the artist for almost thirty years and is shown here carrying Vernet’s portfolio.  Beside him, fashionably attired in yellow breeches and a blue coat is the artist’s youngest son, Carle Vernet (1758-1836) portrayed arm in arm in conversation with Fanny Moreau whom he had married the previous year.  Carle showed promise as a painter from an early age and was accepted into the Académie in 1789.   Carle Vernet’s equestrian paintings which were very well received, showed horses painted in a naturalistic manner, studied from life.  Despite the popularity of these works, following the death of his sister, Carle neglected his painting for a number of years and when he once more took up the brush his style was much altered, now depicting detailed battle scenes honoring the victories of Napoleon.  His wife, Fanny, was the daughter of painter, engraver and illustrator, Jean-Michel Moreau, called Moreau le Jeune (1741-1814).  Fanny and Carle had a son, Horace Vernet who would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him, becoming an illustrious history painter.  Notably absent from the portrait are his eldest son, Livio who had taken a posting as receveur-général in Avignon in 1785 and the artist's English wife, Virginia Parker.  Vernet met Virginia, the daughter of captain in the papal navy, while living in Rome and the two married in 1745.  Sadly Virginia spent the last decade of their marriage in a nursing home.

Following the death of Mr. Pope, Vernet exhibited this painting and its pendant, along with fifteen other works, in the Salon of 1789 where they were received by contemporary critics to great acclaim.  While Alpine landscapes were by then fashionable, the popularity of Vernet’s poetic port scenes had not waned.  Despite changing tastes he continued to paint in the manner developed during his twenty years in Rome, meeting the demand for souvenirs of the Grand Tour, and no collection was considered complete without at least one of his views. 

Mere months after his success at 1789 salon, Claude-Joseph Vernet died aged seventy-five.  The paintings were sold with Mr.  Pope’s estate in 1792 where they were acquired by wealthy Parisian fermier général Laurent Gaspard Grimod de la Reynière.  A cultured financier of discerning taste, La Reynière amassed an eminent collection housed in the hôtel he built for himself (now the American Embassy) on the corner of the Place de la Concorde, Paris.  The Vernet views were sold off a year later along with the rest of the collection but it was not until the subsequent auction in 1816 that the pair was divided and sold as separate lots.

1.  See L. Lagrange under Literature, op. cit., p. 274.