Born on 14 August 1714 in the papal city of Avignon, Vernet received his first training in his home town and began his career painting landscapes for local patrons. The Marquis de Caumont funded a study trip to Italy in 1734 where Vernet settled in Rome associating himself with the French community and the French Academy in Rome. In 1743, he became a member of the Accademia di San Luca. In 1745 he married the daughter of an English naval officer for the papal army, which helped him to expand an extensive network of clients among British travellers on their Grand Tour. Vernet’s painted Roman vedute, but he primarily pursued a production of ideal landscapes and seascapes. Although Vernet had obviously settled in Rome for good, he accepted the invitation of the marquis de Marigny to come to France, a consequence of the latter’s Italian journey in 1749-1751 where he had met the painter. Vernet left Italy in 1752, arriving in France in 1753. He had already become a candidate from Rome in 1746 and became a member immediately after his arrival in Paris.
From 1746 Vernet was a regular exhibitor at the Salon where he became one of the favourites of art criticism. Between 1753 and 1765 Vernet painted his most important work, a series of views of the harbours of France – one of the major eighteenth-century commissions by the Royal administration. In 1765 he finally settled in Paris where he continued to work until his death in 1789.
His success at the Salons was extraordinary. Throughout his career, Vernet was extremely productive and worked for an international clientele that at the end of his career covered most of Europe. Unusually for a French painter of the period, Vernet’s ideal landscapes are informed by ideas of the sublime with often dramatic results. Contemporaries, such as Diderot, saw these works as close to history painting.