The Wallace Collection

Claude-Joseph Vernet, A Storm with a Shipwreck, 1754, cat. P135
Treasure of the Month - July 2009

Claude-Joseph Vernet, A Storm with a Shipwreck, 1754, cat. P135

Claude-Joseph Vernet was the most important and successful French landscape painter of the eighteenth century.

Born in Avignon in 1714, he spent most of his early career in Rome. During the 1730s, Vernet became internationally famous for his dramatic seascapes (such as this painting) and his calm evening scenes bathed in warm sunlight (a later example can be seen on the same wall). Vernet based his work on seventeenth-century painters working in Italy and the Netherlands such as Claude Lorrain, Salvatore Rosa or Ludolf Backhuysen, but he added drama to his landscapes both through the striking shape of mountains, cliffs and rocks and through the stories of human despair and struggle depicted. ‘A Storm with a Shipwreck’ is an outstanding example for this approach.

In 1753 Vernet returned to France after an Italian sojourn of almost twenty years. The Marquis de Marigny, brother of Madame de Pompadour and French Surintendant des bâtiments (comparable to a cultural minister), had offered him the prestigious commission to paint a series of views for the crown of the major French ports.  While Vernet was working on the first paintings in Marseilles, he was commissioned by Marigny to paint the Wallace picture. Three years later, he added another landscape as a pendant (Fig.2) which provided a strong contrast: a stormy coast with a shipwreck combine with a calm landscape with peaceful everyday activities.

Marigny kept Vernet’s paintings in his Parisian town house and office which once stood close to where the Louvre Pyramid can now be seen. In the same room, Marigny had hung many important masterworks of French and Netherlandish painting from his collection. The two pendants were divided when the 4th Marquess acquired the painting in 1869.

© The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 2009.
Text by Christoph Vogtherr

Gallery Talks
Christoph Vogtherr will talk about this picture on Friday 10 July and Thursday 30 July at 1pm, in the West Room.

Further Reading

  • Philip Conisbee: Claude-Joseph Vernet 1714-1789, London 1976.
  • Alden R. Gordon: The Houses and Collections of the Marquis de Marigny, Los Angeles 2003 (Documents for the History of Collecting. French Inventories 1).