Today is the birthday of BOTH Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714) and his son Carle Vernet (1758). Both were well respected French painters. Such coincidences intrigue me. In my own family, my sister’s son was born on my birthday, and my son was born on her daughter’s birthday. Can create a bond.
Claude-Joseph Vernet was born in Avignon. At fourteen years of age he aided his father, Antoine Vernet (1689–1753), a skilled decorative painter, in the most important parts of his work. The panels of sedan chairs, however, could not satisfy his ambition, and Cluade set out for Rome to study there. The sight of the sea at Marseilles and his voyage thence to Civitavecchia (Papal States’ main port on the Tyrrhenian Sea) made a deep impression on him, and immediately after his arrival he entered the studio of a marine painter, Bernardino Fergioni.
Slowly Vernet attracted notice in the artistic milieu of Rome. With a certain conventionality in design, proper to his day, he allied the results of constant observation of natural effects of atmosphere, which he rendered with unusual skill. Perhaps no painter of landscapes or seascapes has ever made the human figure so completely a part of the scene depicted or so important a factor in his design. In this respect he was heavily influenced by Giovanni Paolo Panini, whom he probably met and worked with in Rome. The overall effect of his style is wholly decorative. “Others may know better,” he said, “how to paint the sky, the earth, the ocean; no one knows better than I how to paint a picture”. His style remained relatively static throughout his life. His works’ attentiveness to atmospheric effects is combined with a sense of harmony that is reminiscent of Claude Lorrain.
For twenty years Vernet lived in Rome, producing views of seaports, storms, calms, moonlights, becoming especially popular with English aristocrats, many of whom were on the Grand Tour. In 1745 he married an Englishwoman whom he met in the city. In 1753 he was recalled to Paris: there, by royal command, he executed the series of the seaports of France (now in the Louvre and the Musée national de la Marine) by which he is best known. In 1757, he painted a series of four paintings titled “Four Times of the Day” depicting morning, noon, evening and night.
On his return from Rome he became a member of the academy, but he had previously contributed to the exhibitions of 1746 and following years, and he continued to exhibit, with rare exceptions, down to the date of his death. He died in his lodgings in the Louvre on the 3rd of December 1789.
Carle Vernet (Antoine Charles Horace Vernet), Claude’s youngest son, was born in Bordeaux in 1758. Carle was a pupil of his father and of Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié. He won the Prix de Rome in 1779 and 1782, a French scholarship for arts students, initially for painters and sculptors, that was established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France. Winners were given a bursary that let them stay in Rome for three to five years at the expense of the state. But after winning the prize a second time, his father had to recall him back from Rome to France to prevent him from entering a monastery. This is one of many enigmas in Carle’s life because there are so many details missing.
In 1789 he was provisionally entered into the French Royal Academy, of which his father was a member, and commissioned to produce a painting for his full admission. It seems that his Triumph of Aemilius Paulus was his work for the commission, although the details are obscure. The painting is both traditional and innovative. The classical scene is typical of the age, but the depiction of the horses is not. Carle was an avid horseman and so was intimately familiar with the anatomy of the horse. In consequence this and subsequent depictions is much more natural than those of previous artists. Later, when he worked as a lithographer, his hunting-pieces and races were very popular.
Carle’s sister was executed by guillotine during the Revolution. There are no details available, but we do know that after this event Carle gave up painting.
He began to produce again under the French Directory (1795–1799), but his style had changed radically. He started painting campaigns and battles in minute detail to glorify Napoleon. His paintings of Napoleon’s Italian campaign won acclaim as did the “Battle of Marengo” for which Napoleon awarded him the Légion d’Honneur.
When the monarchy was restored he excelled in hunting scenes and depictions of horses.
Carle said of himself, “I am like the Grand Dauphin; a king’s son, a king’s father, never the king.” Certainly this rings true. His father and his son, Horace, received more acclaim than he, justifiably so in my humble opinion. His technique seems amateurish when compared with his father’s and his choice of subject matter is unappealing (at least to me). I care neither for the “Corsican tyrant” nor the “sport of kings.”
At 78 Carle still loved to ride and race horses. Days before he died he was reportedly seen riding as if he were “a sprightly young man.”
Claude was born in Avignon and Carle in Bordeaux. The regions are quite different historically and culturally, with different cuisines, so I won’t be able to give one dish that combines both. Instead I’ll give you one dish from each region unified in that their chief ingredient is lamb.
Daube d’Agneau à l’Avignonnaise
6 lamb shanks
10 z small mushrooms, halved
1 large bulb fennel, quartered and sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can Italian plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet and brown the shanks on all sides one or two at a time. Transfer them when browned with tongs to a lidded Dutch oven.
Sauté the mushrooms until browned. Add them to the lamb shanks.
Lower the heat to medium and add to the skillet, the fennel, leek, and garlic. Sauté until softened adding a little olive oil if necessary. Add to the shanks.
Add the tomatoes, herbs, and wine. Cover tightly and simmer slowly for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone, literally. Cool uncovered, then chill overnight.
In the morning discard the solidified layer of fat on top.
To serve, very gently reheat the lamb and vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with a little extra chopped fresh parsley. Serve one shank per person with boiled new potatoes and crusty bread.
Gigot D’agneau à Bordeaux
1 whole bone-in leg of lamb
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thin slivers
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more as needed
ground black pepper
2 tbsp rendered goose or duck fat
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¾ cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 cup water
¾ cup light stock
Make small slits all over the leg with the point of a sharp knife and insert the slivers of garlic. Slather all over with goose or duck fat. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the leg from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before roasting so that it can come to room temperature.
Heat the oven to 500°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Combine the vinegar and shallots in a small, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until reduced to ⅓ cup. Strain, reserving the shallots and vinegar separately.
Place the lamb on a rack in a large roasting pan and roast until browned all over.
Reduce the temperature to 350°F and add the reduced wine plus water to the roasting pan. Baste every 15 minutes or so. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 135°F to 140°F, about 1 hour. Remove the lamb to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes covered with a tent of foil. This last step is essential.
Add the stock and reserved shallots to the drippings in the roasting pan and bring to a boil across two burners over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Slice the lamb and serve with the shallot sauce.