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Claude-Joseph Vernet : “The Waterfalls at Tivoli” (1737)

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Likely Vernet’s first major work during his study in Rome, this landscape demonstrates his signature style. Vernet preferred and is remembered for marine subjects, and water is also a central theme in this painting. Vernet became the predominant French landscape painter of the 18th century, contributing to a long French tradition. While in Rome, he absorbed the Italian tradition of dramatic, rugged landscape paintings, established by Salvador Rosa in the 1600s. This influence is reflected in Vernet’s presentation of the craggy rock formations and cascades that made Tivoli, a small town twenty miles east of Rome, famous. Vernet here synthesizes this style with the calmer pastoral mode, more typical of the French landscape tradition, with its roots in the work of Claude Lorrain. Vernet generally inserted elements of humanity in his work, here evident in the touches of civilization in the background and the fishermen in the foreground. Vernet enjoyed considerable popularity, evidenced by the fact that Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte held this painting as a part of his impressive collection.

Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.

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