Soldiers in a Mountain Gorge, with a Storm
(Claude-Joseph Vernet)


This dramatic work may have been conceived as a tribute to Salvator Rosa, to whom Vernet had looked for inspiration at the outset of his fifty-year career. There is no reason to locate the scene in the Alps, as was suggested in his estate sale catalogue, and given the reference to the soldiers ‘in the style of Salvator Rosa’ the Appenines would in any case be more appropriate. The composition is purely imaginary, but it is probable that individual elements were taken from Vernet’s own observations from nature. The beetling cliffs, bending trees and wind-blown travelers were part of the artist’s stock-in-trade. Such wild scenes were conventionally associated with Rosa in the eighteenth century but, while his concept of nature was indeed rugged, the earlier artist rarely painted storms. This late landscape echoes the magnificent Mountain landscape with approaching Storm of 1767 in the Dallas Museum of Fine Art.[1] The smooth surface and fine craquelure can be found in other late works such as Paul et Virginie (1789, Leningrad, Hermitage) and The Shipwreck (1787, Hartford, Wadsworth Athenaeum). In Vernet’s posthumous sale, together with the exhibited painting, there were also two of his copies after Rosa, a Landscape and Soldiers at the Foot of a Tree (no. 16).

Vernet had himself written that ‘the shortest and surest means is to draw after nature. One must above all paint, because then one has drawing and color at the same time’[2] Although all Vernet’s painted sketches have been lost, we know of their existence from his estate sale catalogue. Elements in this picture can be found in other works of the 1780s and we may assume that the influence of Caspar Wolf, the German-Swiss artist who had inspired Vernet’s visit to Switzerland in the late 1770s, was still important. Here, the dramatic composition with the figure climbing to an unknown destination, reflects the position of France at the onset of the Revolution which had begun with the storming of the Bastille six weeks before this picture was exhibited. It makes a fitting end both to Vernet’s productive life and the ancien regime, while heralding the romanticism of the next century.


[1] Acquired from the Matthiesen Gallery

[2] Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy, New Haven & London, 1991, p.18

63 by 43 5/16 in. 160 by 110 cm.
Oil on canvas

PROVENANCE: The artist’s collection; his sale, Paris, 20 April 1790, no. 14, Un grand Tableau represéntant des Soldats passant dans une gorge des montagnes des Alpes par un temps orageux.


LITERATURE: L. Lagrange, Les Vernet, Joseph Vernet et la peinture au XVIIIe siecle, 1864, p. 468, 473. F. Ingersoll-Smouse, Claude-Joseph Vernet, 1926, II, p. 44, no. 1185; the picture not known to Smouse.


EXHIBITED: Paris, Salon of 1789, no. 28, Un temps orageux dans un lieu sauvage, au milieu d’arbres et de rochers, dans le goût de Salvator Rosa; London, Matthiesen Gallery, A selection of French Paintings 1700-1840, 1989, no. 28.
Matthiesen Gallery, ‘Col

Where is It?
Acquired through The Matthiesen Gallery by The Detroit Institute of Arts
Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
1987-The Settecento: Italian Rococo and Early Neoclassical Paintings,1700-1800.
An exhibition held on behalf of Aids Crisis Trust (UK) and The American Foundation for Aids Research (USA). Introduction by Charles McCorquordale. Essays by Francis Russell, Edgar Peters Bowron, and Catherine Whistler. 200 pages, 31 colour plates, 88 black and white illustrations. £15 or $23 inc. p.& p.

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Price band
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