Vernet, Joseph

, a celebrated French marine painter, was born at Avignon in 1712, and received the early part of his education at Rome. While there he contracted au acquaintance with Mr. Drake, of Sharlowes, in Buckinghamshire, then on his travels. Mr. Drake employed him to paint six pictures, and left the subjects to his own choice. They are very capital performances, in the painter’s best manner, and are now in the drawing-room at Sharlowes.

Having stayed a competent time, eagerly employed in the contemplation of the finest models of antiquity, he returned to France, and his first designs were views of some of the principal sea-ports on the coast. These being shewn to his late majesty of France, procured him the appointment of marine painter to the king, with a competent salary, and every assistance that he requested to go through | his plan of giving a view of every sea' port in the kingdom. This he completed, and under royal and national patronage the views have been engraved and the prints, which are in general most exquisitely performed, have been disseminated through all Europe. Many of these engravings were by Balechon; one of them, well known to collectors by the name of “The Storm,” was much admired for the fluidity of the water, and the spirit of the figures. One hundred of the prints were consigned to an engraver in London, and part of them sold; but some persons objecting to the very clumsy style in which a long dedication, inscribed under the print, was written, Balechon said he would soon remedy that, and with his graver drew a number of black lines upon the copper, over the dedication, so as in a degree to obliterate the words, and sent 100 impressions to England. These our connoisseurs soon found to be “the second impression,” and eagerly bought up the first; but a print with the lines no man of taste would look at. This mortified the English printseller, who wrote to the French engraver, and complained that he could not sell the second set for half price. “Morbleu” cries the Frenchman, “How whimsical are these English Virtuosi! They must be satisfied, however.” To work he sets with his punch and hammer, and, repairing the letters, sends out the print, with the inscription apparently in its first state. A few of these were sold; but the imposition was soon discovered by the faintness of the impressions; and then those who did not possess the first impressions, were glad to have the plate in the second, rather than the third state; so that nearly all the third set lay upon the hands of the printseller. This produced a complaint; and the complaisant Frenchman, ever eager to satisfy his English customers, again punched out the lines, and brought the inscription to its second state.

This Proteus of a print very frequently appears in sales; and the contests of the connoisseurs about the superiority of those without lines to those with, and vice versa, are innumerable, and sometimes proceed to blows. This little history may perhaps induce them to consult their own eyes, in preference to black lines.

After a long and active life, in a manner that did honour to himself and his country, Vernet began to fear that his well-earned pension would be stopped by the troubles arising in France; and as 81 years of age is rather too late | a period for a man to take a very active part in national disputes, he meditated a retreat to England, which was put a stop to by his death in 1789. His works will, however, live as long as those of any artist of his day. In a light and airy management of his landscape, in a deep and tender diminution of his perspective, in the clear transparent hue of the sky, liquid appearance of the water, and the buoyant air of the vessels which he depicted on it, he had few superiors. In small figures employed in dragging off a boat, rigging a ship, or carrying goods from the quay to a warehouse, or any other employ which required action, he displayed most uncommon knowledge, and gave them with such spirit (though sometimes a little in the French fluttered style), as has never been equalled by any man except our most excellent Mortimer; and to be the inferior of Mortimer in that line is no dishonour. It has been the lot of every painter who ever lived, and will probably be the lot of all who ever will live. He carried that branch of the art to its highest degree of perfection. As a proof in what estimation Vernet was held, it may be mentioned that two of his pictures, now in the Luxembourg, were purchased by madame du Barry for 50,000 livres. It was said of him, that his genius neither knew infancy nor old age. 1

1 Dict. Hist.Gent. Mag. vol. LIX.