All In The Family: The Vernets


Back in July, our post on Horace Vernet mentioned that, because his father and grandfather had apartments in the Louvre, Horace enjoyed the rare privilege of being born in the Louvre. Today is the birthday of both his father, Carle Vernet, and that grandfather, Joseph Vernet. (Joseph was born in 1714; his son was born exactly 44 years later.) It only makes sense, then, that we devote today's post to Joseph and Carle Vernet.

"The Shipwreck," Claude-Joseph (Joseph) Vernet

The National Gallery likens Claude-Joseph Vernet's "The Shipwreck" to a movie, "in full Technicolor and stereo sound." Vernet prided himself on painting an entire scene, remarking once, "Others may know better how to paint the sky, the earth, the ocean; no one knows better than I how to paint a picture." Preferring to work from nature, Vernet was known to be on the beach in any weather, asking watermen to take him out to sea. Supposedly, he once even had himself bound to a ship's mast during a storm so that he could experience a storm at sea. (His grandson's painting of the event perpetuates the tale.) Denis Diderot believed Joseph Vernet had "stolen Nature's secret; whatever she produces, Vernet can recreate."

Thanks to Vernet's dedication to his craft, he was the most famous and successful marine painter of his day. He even received at least two dozen commissions from the king himself, Louis XV. Today, in Vernet's hometown of Avignon, there is a Rue Joseph Vernet to honor the artist.

"Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Napoleon I," Antoine-Charles (Carle) Vernet

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Carle Vernet began studying art at age 11 and won the Prix de Rome at age 24. His stay in Rome ended prematurely, though, when his father recalled him to France to prevent him from entering a monastery. Apparently, he had undergone a "mystical experience." During the Revolution, his sister was guillotined and, while many sources state the tragedy wasn't reflected in his art, some believe his style changed radically after her death. Carle himself lived to be 78; supposedly, he was even seen "racing as if he were a sprightly young man" just days before his death. Despite being well-regarded in his own time, this lively artist is unfortunately known today mostly as an aside in the lives of his father and his son.

Larger versions: "The Shipwreck" and "Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Napoleon I" Galleries: Joseph Vernet on ARC and Carle Vernet on WGA "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.