The Happy Fishing
Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789)

The Happy Fishing, 1758

Oil on canvas, H. 0.53 m; W. 0.66 m

Signed et dated lower right : J.Vernet.f.1758.

Provenance: M. Imbert, 1758 , Bordeaux, together with a pendant of a stormy seascape, 1.000 livres.

  • F. Ingersoll-Smouse, Joseph Vernet, Peintre de Marine, 1714-1789, Paris, 1926, vol : 1, p.89, n°701, fig.156.
  • Lagrange, p. 211.Hubert et Rost, Manuel des Curieux et des Amateurs d’Art, Paris 1875-77, Nr. 18 Musee Calvet d`Avignon,Bibliothèque: Renvois aux tomes I et II de l’album Lagrange, “Joseph Vernet” – 162Commentaire de Jean George Wille, 1715 – 1808, Graveur du Roy: Je serai charmé, écrit-il dans son journal, d`avoir quelque chose de ce peintre célèbre

Claude-Joseph Vernet began his career in earnest at the age of nineteen in Rome, where he was to stay for almost twenty years. In that cosmopolitan milieu, his style absorbed the influence of the other great Gallo-Roman, Nicolas Poussin, as well as that of Salvator Rosa. Among his contemporaries his associates included Subleyras, Panini, Locatelli, Richard Wilson and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who together with Vernet helped to re-establish a tradition of historical and realist painting as an alternative to the primarily decorative tradition of the ‘Rocaille’.

Vernet soon became celebrated for his coastal subjects and perhaps the most conspicuous fact about his work taken as a whole, is the extraordinary frequency with which he returns to a small number of subjects: shipwrecks, harbour scenes, cascades, boating and fishing scenes occur over and over from his earliest years until his death. In his contrasting moods of storm and calm, moonlight and sunlight, Vernet was felt to contribute to the

education of the homme de sensibilite and Diderot was even prepared to accord the high status of ‘History’ to the small human dramas played out in Vernet’ s work: The Marines of Vernet which show ail sorts of incidents and scenes, are as much history painting to me as the Seven Sacraments of Poussin.

Like the masters, both alive and dead, who helped to form his style, Vernet’s patrons came from an international stock. He found much favour among the English and the Irish, particularly in Rome, and many of the great British collections still contain works bought directly from the artist (Clive, Egremont, Featherstonhaugh). Even after he returned to France he continued to receive commissions from distinguished foreigners, including Lord Clive (of India), the King of Poland, and the Elector Palatine. The two most important groups of works after 1753, however, were painted for Frenchmen: the great Ports of France Series (1753-1762) was commissioned by the Marquis of Marigny, brother of Mme de Pompadour, for Louis XV; and de Marigny’s namesake, Jean Girardot, was the most important patron of the late 1770s and 1780s, commissioning at least sixteen paintings in ail, including the present one.

Vernet enjoyed a particular close relationship with the younger Marigny; they even travelled to Switzerland together, from June 1778 to April 1779. Marigny was an eminent financier with liberal opinions who formed an important collection ofcontemporary French art – un cabinet de tableaux très precieux … qui occasionne sa seule depense (Bachaumont, Memoires Secrets, 1782). Vernet was his favourite painter and he commissioned from him pictures (mainly uniform in size) representing the full range of his talents, including topographical views, shipwrecks, bathers and a narrative picture. La Mort de Virginie (1789), bought by Tsar Paul l before 1801and now in the Hermitage, Leningrad.

Vernet died in 1789, on the eve of great political changes, which had far-reaching effects on the life, and culture of Europe, It is often thought convenient to consider him neatly confined to the period between the death of Louis XIV and the Revolution. His influence was felt, however, by more ‘progressive’ painters such as Voltaire, de Loutherbourg, and Wright of Derby; he may also be said to be among those artists who by their clarity of colouring and line form a bridge between the great academic artists of the seventeenth century and the neo-classical painters, such as David, who celebrated the new regime. At the same time he is without doubt the greatest of the French eighteenth century landscape painters, and his work bas always been highly valued for its combination of the decorative with intellectual strength.