His posthumous sale, Paris, Paillet and Delaroche, 23 February 1801, lot 129, for 2000 francs, to Féréol de Bonnemaison (1770–1827);
Charles-Ferdinand de Bourbon, duc de Berry (1778–1820), Palais de l'Élysée, Paris;
By inheritance to his widow, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, duchesse de Berry (1798–1870);
By whom sold in the duc de Berry's posthumous sale, London, Christie's, April 1834, lot 110, for £200 (as 'A Harbour Scene');
J.C.E. Graf van Lynden, Leyden;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Private Collector'), New York, Christie's, 11 January 1991, lot 10, for $550,000;
Where acquired by the present owner.
Robert Daudet, 1785
One of Vernet’s most picturesque scenes of the Neapolitan coastline, it depicts Posillipo, looking towards Naples and its strongholds. Through an arched opening formed of rock the artist has framed a view of the city’s harbour and distant buildings rendered in soft hazy light. This lively coastal scene is animated with a combination of figures at work – such as the man at the far left fishing from a rock and the fishermen in the middle distance straining to pull in their nets – and those at rest recovering from their exertions. Advancing from the left, a distinguished party accompanied by the fanfare of two horns is being rowed to shore from a ship of war at anchor in the calm of the bay. In the foreground, figures gather and converse besides bales of merchandise; to the right of them are mules laden with goods. At the far right, next to the man enjoying his pipe and the company of his dog, on the larger of the two wooden crates, is the artist’s signature and date.
Vernet’s views of identifiable sites painted during his years in Rome are considerably rarer than his imaginary landscapes and marine pictures. In its depiction of a recognisable place this picture falls into the former category. Few views of the Neapolitan coastline are known. Among the most celebrated is a pair of splendid paintings depicting the Bay of Naples in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland, datable to the early 1740s.1 The success of the latter pair may have led to a commission from the Abbé de Canillac, the French chargé d’affaires in Rome, to paint two similar views datable towards the end of the decade and now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.2 Conceived on a less bombastic scale, this alluring painting is identified in the earliest citation of it as ‘un des plus riches point de vue de Pausilype, près de Naples’, and is described in some detail, singling out its high level of finish.3 Indeed the refined surface of the painting, with its spirited brushwork, distinguishes Vernet’s work at this time. The year after he painted this, Vernet was elected to the Accademia di S. Luca in Rome, a reflection of the recognition he achieved in Italy still at this early point in his career.
An engraving of the painting dated 1785 by Robert Daudet has the following inscription: Dedié à Monsieur De Tolozan Introducteur des Ambassadeurs pres Sa Majesté tres Chretienne. Le Tableau Original est dans le Cabinet Msr De Tolozan. Par son tres humble et tres Obiesant Serviteur R. Dauché. A Paris... The first recorded owner of the painting can now be established as Claude Tolozan (1728–1796), a courtier, responsible for conducting ambassadors and foreign dignitaries to audiences with the King and other members of the royal household. It may be that Tolozan acquired this picture directly from Vernet; he was clearly an admirer of his work as he owned several examples dating from different moments in his career. The sale of Tolozan’s collection held in February 1801 a few years after his death has been described as the last great dispersal of the eighteenth-century.4 The collection comprised 159 paintings of different schools, with the greatest emphasis on the Dutch masters, which made up two-thirds of the collection. The next most significant holdings were French pictures, which included numerous works by key representatives of the seventeenth century, as well as a significant number of works by contemporary artists; among these were no less than seven paintings by Vernet, of which this fetched one of the higher prices. Vernet’s son Carle (1758–1836) is recorded as participating successfully at the sale, purchasing a number of works, including two by his father: a scene of shipwreck dated 1748, paired with a calm – subject pictures that he made his specialism and for which he was widely acclaimed.
A coastal view later hung at the Élysée Palace in Paris where it belonged to the heir to the French throne, Charles-Ferdinand de Bourbon, duc de Berry (1778–1820). Following the dramatic circumstances of his death – he was assassinated at the Opéra in February 1820 by a Bonapartist – the painting was inherited by his widow Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, duchesse de Berry (1789–1870; fig. 1). This view’s poetic evocation of this part of Italy’s coastline may have held particular appeal for the duchess, who was born in Naples.
A photograph in the Witt Library of a drawing in pen, ink and wash on paper, recorded in the Bourgarel collection, may be a preparatory study for motifs that feature in the left section of Vernet’s finished painting. The drawing comprises the warship itself, fluidly sketched against a backdrop of massed clouds, with strongly silhouetted fishermen on the rocky shore in the foreground.5 The figures stand out against the light tonality of the water, captured in paint with vibrant contrasts of light and colour.
1. Each 76 x 115 cm.
2. R.F. 1976-21 and R.F. 1949-8; each: 99 x 197 cm.
3. Catalogue of the sale of Claude Tolozan’s collection, 23 February 1801, lot 129: 'Un des plus riches point de vue de Pausilype, près de Naples. La partie gauche du premier plan offre un rocher pittoresque baigné par la mer, et laissant entrevoir par son ouverture la ville de Naples dans un effet de perspective admirable. Le rivage est couvert de nombre de personnages et de travailleurs, sur les ports : les uns occupés au transport des marchandises, d'autres à tirer des barques dans la rade. Les richesses d'accessoires convenables à ce genre, sont distribuées dans ce tableau avec le plus grand art et cette intelligence d'harmonie de couleur, et cet admirable fini que présentent les savantes productions de Vernet, dans la force de ses études.'
4. B.B. Fredericksen and B. Perronet, Répertoire des tableaux vendus en France au XIXe siècle, Los Angeles 1998, p.3 ff., no. 1; sale description Lugt 6204.
5. Wyzewa sale, Paris, Drouot, 21–22 February 1919, no. 261, reproduced (as Les Pecheurs); 230 x 180 mm.
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