Horace Vernet

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Biography of Horace Vernet ( 1789-1863 )

I paint as I feel, as I see; let others paint as they see and feel. Horace Vernet


Born into a family of talented artists, Horace Vernet was the grandson of the engraver Jean Moreau le Jeune on his mother's side and of the famous landscape and marine painter Joseph Vernet on his father's side. He was trained by his father, Carle Vernet, and showed prodigious talent at a very young age. In his father's studio, he befriended Théodore Géricault, who had a definite influence on Vernet's work by directing him towards Romanticism.
At only 22 years old, the young artist is married and already made a living from his art by selling fashion drawings, caricatures, portraits and even horses in the manner of Carle or landscapes in the manner of Joseph.

A committed citizen, Horace Vernet defended Paris in 1814 against the approach of the Russians and their allies. On March 31, 1814, Tsar Alexander I triumphantly entered Paris. It was the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire and the advent of Louis XVIII. The painter recounted this episode in 1820 in his painting "The Barrier of Clichy" now preserved in the Louvre.
In the first years of the restoration, Horace's studio was a meeting place for artists and veterans hostile to the return of the Bourbons to power. He had a very close relationship with Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, who commissioned him to paint the Napoleonic battles of Jemmapes, Montmirail, Hanau and Valmy (now in the National Gallery).
His triumphant debut earned him the title of Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1825 and member of the Institute in 1826. His success at the 1826 and 1827 Salons propelled him to the post of Director of the Academy of Rome in 1829. He stayed there for 7 years during which he produced compositions based on local life, his first orientalist subjects and paintings inspired by the great masters Raphael and Michelangelo. Horace Vernet defended a freedom of expression that was rare at the time.

Describing his studio in Rome, the German composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote in a letter to his mother on March 1, 1831 that "the most beautiful disorder reigns everywhere. Guns, a hunting horn, a shark, pallets, a couple of hares killed while hunting or dead rabbits; everywhere on the walls, finished or half-done paintings.... Some horses, the sketch and the studies of the Judith, the portraits of the pope, heads of Mores, pifferari...". Here is what to elaborate multitude of paintings while Vernet is known for his immense memory and his virtuosity without equal. Moreover Géricault said of him "His head is a piece of furniture with drawers; he opens, looks and finds each memory in its place".

During the reign of Louis-Philippe from 1830 to 1848, Horace Vernet painted the great historical compositions of the Galerie des Batailles in Versailles. His paintings are documented by his observations since he was sent as an official painter to Algeria during the conquest and stayed for a long time in North Africa in 1833, 1837, 1839-1840, 1845 and 1853. More than a history painter, Horace Vernet lived history and painted it with passion and commitment. He acquired an estate in Algeria during his first trip in 1833 and went there regularly to practice hunting. He also stayed in Russia in 1836 and during the winter of 1842-1843 at the request of Tsar Nicholas I who gave him several commissions. By reading his correspondence with his wife, one can guess that behind the artist was a man of the world, a fine diplomat and observer of the contemporary world.

The political events that followed until the advent of Napoleon III in 1849 hardly affected his activity. During the Universal Exhibition of 1855, he exhibited 24 paintings in a room entirely dedicated to him. Even if he was badly treated by the critics, Baudelaire describing him as a "military man making paintings", he gained a popular success.
A few months before his death, Napoleon III sent him the "Cross of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor as to the great painter of a great era". Horace Vernet died at the age of 74, admired all over Europe by the sovereigns as well as by the people who knew his works thanks to the engraving which had widely distributed his work.

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