By the date of this picture, Vernet had established a reputation as one of the most revered marine and landscape painters of his day. Born in Avignon in 1714, he went to Italy at the age of just 18 to pursue a career as a historical painter; he had travelled no farther than Marseilles before he was met with the sublime stretch of the Mediterranean, reportedly inducing him to devote himself instead entirely to marine painting. In Rome he discovered the landscape painting of Claude Lorrain, Salvator Rosa and Andrea Locatelli, whose influences can be seen throughout his oeuvre.
After a twenty-year sojourn in Italy, Vernet was recalled to France in 1752 by Louis XV at the recommendation of the Marquis de Marigny, who had visited his studio in Rome in 1750. It was shortly after, in 1753, that Vernet was made a member of the Académie Royale in Paris and commissioned by the French Government to paint his seminal ‘Ports of France’ series, which he would undertake until 1765.
In this picture we see clear influences of Claude’s port scenes, as dusk falls over the calm coastal view. At the centre of the composition, a vessel appears to fly the Ottoman fag, perhaps alluding to France’s role as the Ottoman Empire’s primary trading partner in the eighteenth century. The scene’s serenity is mirrored in the harmony of figures, recalling Vernet’s grander celebration of this croissance in his Inside the Port of Marseilles of 1754, in the Musée National de la Marine, Paris (inv. no. MnM 5OA3D). Though the scene is largely fanciful, the lighthouse recalls the famous ‘lanterna del Molo’ in Naples, which is seen in seascapes throughout Vernet’s work. His mastery of the effects of light, so evident here, led Diderot to rhapsodise on Vernet’s ability to ‘preach the grandeur, power and majesty of nature more compellingly than nature herself.’ (Diderot on Art: The Salon of 1767, II, ed. John Goodman, London, 1995, p. 121).
A Mediterranean seaport with figures unloading cargo, two women fetching water from a fountain, a lighthouse beyond
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY OF A LADY
Signed and dated 'J. Vernet. f / .1773.' (lower left)
Claude Joseph Vernet
Claude Joseph Vernet , 18th Century, Paintings, canvas, oil, France, Old Master, figures, maritime, seascape
20 ¾ x 27 7/8 in. (52.6 x 70.6 cm.)
F. Ingersoll-Smouse, Joseph Vernet, peintre de marines 1714-1789, Paris, 1926, II, p. 25, no. 975.
William Fuller Maitland (1813-1876), of Stansted and Garth, Brecon.
Charles Eeaston, St James's Square, London; Christie's, London, 21 April 1886, lot 110 (38 gns. to Vokins).
with Vokins, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Monaco, 29 September 1986, lot 361.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Monaco, 5 December 1991, lot 174.
Acquired by the present owner in 2007.
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