Claude-Joseph Vernet was one of the most eminent and influential French landscape painters of the eighteenth century. Born at Avignon, son of the painter Antoine Vernet, Claude-Joseph showed great talent at an early age. Patronised by the Marquise de Simiane, the Marquis de Caumont and the Comte de Quinson, he went to Italy in 1734. In Rome, Vernet probably worked initially in the studio of the French marine painter Adrien Manglard. By 1738 he had established a reputation as a painter of landscapes, seaports and coast scenes, reminiscent of seventeenth century masters such as Gaspard Dughet. In 1745 he married Virginia Cecilia Parker, daughter of Mark Parker, an Irish Captain in the Papal Navy.
Vernet was particularly concerned with rendering the transience of nature and the effects of light and weather. His paintings won critical acclaim for his ability to capture the changing beauties of nature. His subtle interest in changing landscape is seen in the way he conceived works in pairs and sets, contrasting times of day, weather, sea and shore scenes.
Vernet became a member of the Académie Royale and returned to France in 1753. That year he was commissioned by Louis XV to paint his famous series of the Ports of France, a celebration of the country’s principal seaports, in which he combined the exacting demands of topography with a poetic monumentality. Vernet completed only fifteen of the proposed twenty or more ports, exhibited at the Salon between 1755 and 1765. However, both in scale and quantity, this was one of the greatest official commissions of the century. Vernet finally settled in Paris in 1765, working for a large international clientele. He travelled to Switzerland with his patron Jean Girardot de Marigny in 1778, and died in Paris on the brink of the Revolution in 1789.
The work of Claude-Joseph Vernet is represented in the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Château de Versailles; the National Gallery, London; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the Prado, Madrid and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.