Born in the Louvre: Horace Vernet


Recently, I stumbled upon the French artist Horace Vernet (1789-1863), whose 219th birthday was yesterday. Vernet is most known for his highly accurate, large-scale battle scenes, but he also painted several Biblical and Oriental scenes as well.

1. Many artists are born into artistic families, but Horace Vernet's circumstances surpass all others. Not only was his whole family artistic (including both his great-grandfather, his grandfather, his father, his uncle, and his brother-in-law), but he was born in the Louvre. Both his father, Carle Vernet, and his grandfather, Joseph Vernet, had official apartments there, though Joseph died the year Horace was born.

2. With such a pedigree, it's no surprise Vernet began drawing at an early age. By the time he was 13, he could even support himself just off the payments he received for his drawings. Yet when he competed for the Prix de Rome in 1810, at age 20, he lost. So, he exhibited "Prise du Camp Retranché de Glatz" instead.

3. Vernet's knack for military scenes can be traced back to his childhood, but his service defending Paris in 1814, for which he received the cross of the Legion of Honour, surely contributed to his accuracy in such depictions. Once, Emperor Louis Napoleon requested that Vernet remove a certain general from a painting, to which Vernet replied, "I am a painter of history, sire, and I will not violate the truth."

4. Vernet, with his famous family, noble patrons, and successful career, was a great celebrity of his time, even being talked about in the gossip pages of American newspapers. An 1855 edition of the New York Times relays a particularly entertaining story, though the reporter remarks that, "I suppose, there is not a grain of truth in it." The story purports that, while riding on a train, Vernet was being openly discussed by the two women in his compartment, which rather annoyed him. So, when the train passed through a tunnel, Vernet loudly kissed the back of his hand twice, in quick succession. As the train emerged from the darkness, the ladies were no longer focused on him and were instead accusing each other of kissing a strange man in the dark.

5. In "The Greek Interpreter" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes claims that his grandmother "was the sister of Vernet, the French artist."

A larger version of "Le Dernier Grenadier De Waterloo" (The Last Grenadier of Waterloo) is available here. Fans should check out Horace Vernet's ARC Gallery (complete with images of Vernet and a handwritten letter) and his 1880 illustrated biography. Current Exhibitions featuring "Feel Art Again" artists:Dalí: Painting and Film (NYC: through September 15, 2008)Inspiring Impressionism, feat. Edgar Degas & Paul Cézanne (Seattle: through Septmeber 21, 2008)Paris Posters, feat. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec & Alphonse Mucha (Indianapolis: through August 24, 2008)Japonisme in American Graphic Art, feat. Hokusai (Brooklyn, NY: through October 12, 2008) "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of art exhibitions.