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The Tempest

Claude-Joseph Vernet (Avignon, 1714-Paris, 1789)
Signed and dated (lower right): J. Vernet 1751
47.5 cm x 64 cm (unframed); 67 x 83 cm (framed)
Oil on canvas
  • Succession de M.A. Arosa; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 31 March 1882, lot 56,
  • Anonymous sale; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24 April 1907, lot 65,
  • Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s Monte Carlo, 26 October 1981, lot 565 (to Galerie Bruno Meissner, Zurich),
  • Bought by current owner from Property of a gentleman, Christie’s, New York, Sale 1822: Important Old Master Paintings Including Property from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker, in 19 April 2007, lot 76

Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) was one of the leading French landscape painters of the 18th century. Son of skilled decorative painter, Antoine Vernet (1689-1755), Claude-Joseph quickly learnt the trade and helped his father in his daily routine. After being somewhat unsatisfied, Vernet decided to travel to Rome to study landscape designers and maritime painters. During his time in Rome, he not only mastered topographical paintings and placid landscapes but also excelled in moonlit settings and tempests, becoming mostly known for his Mediterranean harbour landscapes. Vernet’s approach to painting was that of picturesque compositions of light and harmonious subject matter. His paintings left no stone unturned, consisting of various natural elements and expressing scenes of refined beauty and grace, even in the bleakest of paintings.

‘The Tempest’, signed and dated (1751), is an oil on canvas painting executed the same year that Vernet returned to France after having spent twenty years in Italy refining his skills in landscape painting and furthering his reputation as an artist of seascapes. ‘The Tempest’ sets the tone of the dramatic scene with the use of light coming down from the skies and highlighting the subjects in the painting. Vernet gave as much importance to the foreground as to the background through the use of engagement, where figures are seen reacting to their scenarios, providing a sense of atmosphere and movement. The sky is enraged but gives the viewer a little hope through peeping blue skies. From the colour of the sea to the side-tilted ship, we are able to note that the depicted scene is an aftermath of a heavy and delirious tempest whilst anxious onlookers discover the corollary of the tempest’s after effects.

The dark undertones leave a daunting effect on the bright clothing worn by the poor individuals on the shore, amongst the foamy waves of sea. This gives attention to the centre of the painting, fashioning the figurative forms into the main element of the scene. These figures act as a guide to show us where our eyes should divert, pointing towards important aspects of the narrative on the painting. All these elements illustrate a horrific sensation in the viewer, almost as if the onlooker forms part of the unfortunate events. ‘The Tempest’ and other scenic paintings by Claude-Joseph Vernet, display the sheer power and force of nature in comparison to humankind. What is fascinating about Vernet is his ability to go from calm, lulling atmospheres to destruction, devastation and disruption.


Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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