June 5 - August 8, 1982
Oil on canvas: 361/4 x 283/8 inches
(92 x 72 cm.)
Signed and dated lower right:
Ml' Le Brun f. 1778, Musee du Louvre, Paris,
France's greatest landscape and marine painter of the eighteenth century, Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), was bom at,Avignon, the son of a carriage painter. He received his initial training in Aix-en-Provence in the studio of Rene Vialy. In 1734, with financial assistance provided by his patron, the Comte de Quinson, he traveled to Rome where he was to spend the next twenty years of his life. He worked under B. Fergioni and Adrien Manglard, studied Pannini and Locatelli, but the major influences on his work were Claude Lorrain, Gaspard Dughet, and Salvator Rosa. In the genre of the dramatic and poetic landscape, he specialized in depictions of the Roman campagna and the Neapolitan sea coast. He had a keen eye for the variety of nature, and his usual subjects were sunrises and sunsets, moon-lit vistas and stormy seascapes with their "picturesque" accompaniments of waterfalls, pools, torrents, rocks, tree trunks, lush foliage, and ruins. By 1740 Vernet had acquired an international clientele. TheAcademie Royale in Paris made him an associate member in 1745. From then on, he exhibited regularly at the biennial Salons. In Rome he married an Irish woman, Virginia Parker, and together thevy founded a dynasty of painters which includes Carle and Horace Vernet. He returned to France in 1753, settling in Paris, at which time he was given full academic honors. Louis XV then commissioned from him the famous topographical series of the Ports of France (Musee de la Marine, Paris), which he completed in 1765. His paintings were avidly sought after by amateurs, and the critics, especially Diderot, were exuberant in their praise of him.
Mlle Vigee was befriended by Vernet when she was still quite young. By the time she was making money from her painting, he advised her to keep her earnings instead of turning them over to her avaricious step-father, Le Sevre. Vernet also encouraged her with sound advice: "My child," he told her, "do not follow the established system of any one school. Consult only the works of the great Italian masters, as well as the Flemish. But especially, you must paint as much as you can from nature.
Nature is the best master of all. If you study her carefully, you will avoid any kind of mannerism" (Souvenirs, 1, 12). As a student, she copied landscapes by Vernet; two of these (in pastel?) are recorded in the 1778 sale of Mme de Cosse (Women Drawing Water From a Well and Boatman Pulling his Craft towards the Shore), but technically, his influence on her work is negligible. He took a fatherly interest in her career, and he sponsored her for membership in the Acad6mie in 1783.
When she painted this handsome portrait, Vernet was in his sixty-fourth year. The portrait offers a refreshingly sober image of the kindly artist, showing him casually posed in his studio with palette in hand, just as he must have appeared to his contemporaries. He took possession of the painting in October of the following year and noted in his account book that he gave six livres in gratuitv to the servant who delivered it (see Lagrange, 1864, cited below). In March and April of 1783, the portrait was selected to be shown in a retrospective exhibition of Vernet's works held at the Salon de la Correspondance: "Mde Le Brun," wrote the organizer of the exhibition, "as the worthv pupil [sic] of M. Vernet and as the author of the portrait presented here, is in a wav associated with his fame. Her portrait [of him] must not have appeared out of place in the midst of the works of her master. It was seen with the greatest pleasure." (Pahin de La Blancherie, Notivelles de la Ripubliqtie des Lettres et des Arts, March 26, 1783, cited below.)
Vernet died the vear the Revolution began. His beloved daughter, Emilie Chalgrin, an exact contemporary of Vigee Le Brun, was guillotined in 1793. The two women had been close friends since childhood. In 1789 Mme Le Brun painted a portrait of Mine Chalgrin which has unfortunately never been located.
LITHOGRAPH: Francois Seraphim Delpech, for his konographie franqaise au choix de deux cents portraits d'hommes et de femmes, Paris, 1840, III, unnumbered plate.
PROVENANCE: Collection of Joseph Vernet, by 1779; Aubert collection; acquired in 1817 from M. Aubert by the Musee Royal du Louvre (Archives du Louvre:P6 - 1817, 7 janvier).
EXHIBITIONS: Paris, Salon de la Correspondance, Exposition retrospective des oetiz,res de Joseph Vernet, March-April 1783; Castres, Musee Goya, Les Femmes peintres au XVIIIE siecle, 1973, no. 33, illus. pl. XXV; Mont-de-Marsan, Donjon Lacataye, La femtne artiste d'Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun d Rosa Bonheur, November 1981-February 1982, cat. no. 5, illus.
REFERENCES: Pahin de La Blancherie, Nouvelles de la Ripublique des Lettres et des Arts, No. XII, March 19, 1783, p. 95, no. 14; ibid., supplement to No. XIII, March 26, 1783, p. 105, no. 18; ibid., No. XIV, April 2, 1783, p. Ill (cited in a letter from the antiquarian Bartoli to Pahin de La Blancherie); Journal de Paris, No. 72, March 13,1783, p.301; Souvenirs, 1, 337 (incorrectly included in artist's list of 1789); L. Lacrange, Joseph Vernet et la peinttire du XVIIIE siecle, Paris, 1864 (2nd ed.), P. 414; Nolhac, 1908, p. 312, illus. facing p. 18; Helm, -, pp. 106, 224 (incorrectly dated); Blum, 1919, p. 99, illus. facing p. 16; P. Rosenberg, N. Revnaud and I. Compin, Musee du Louvre, catalogue illustri des peinttires: Ecole franqaise XVIIE et XVIlIe siecles, Paris 1974, 11, no. 885, illus.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
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