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Horace Vernet was a French painter, lithographer, and draughtsman often associated with the Orientalist movement. He also executed portraits, historical subjects, and battle scenes, which produced some of his best-known artworks today, such as The Last Grenadier of Waterloo, and Napoleonic battle in the Alps.
Horace Vernet was born in June 1789, in Paris, France. His life was related to art from the very beginning, for his father was Carle Vernet, a very famous painter and his grandfather Claude-Joseph Vernet as well. Also, Horace Vernet, curiously, was born at the Louvre Museum itself, where his parents were staying during the French Revolution.
Vernet early developed a disdain for French art influenced by Classicism and its high-minded seriousness. Vernet began to focus mostly on subjects depicting contemporary French life. Also, during his early career, when Napoleon Bonaparte was still in power, Vernet decided to represent the French soldier in a more vernacular, familiar manner, than in an idealized fashion, like Jacques-Louis David. In his twenty years old, he was already exhibiting the Taking of an Entrenched Camp, a work that already shows a very keen character. His other artworks that follow the same style, depicting soldiers in a less idealizing tone, include Dog of the Regiment, Death of Poniatowski, and Trumpeter’s Horse.
Vernet achieved considerable recognition during the Bourbon Restoration, a period following Napoleon’s downfall until the July Revolution. Said notoriety would come thanks to a series of battle paintings commissioned by the future King Louis-Philippe and the Duc d’Orleans.
During the French Second Empire, Vernet would continue to paint the heroic depictions of the French Army. During the Crimean War, the artist accompanied the French Army during the campaign. During this period, Vernet executed several paintings, such as one representing the Battle of the Alma, met with a lukewarm reception, as opposed to his prior paintings. A running anecdote states that upon a request to erase a particular general from one of his compositions, the artist firmly replied, “I am a painter of history, sire, and I will not violate the truth,” which demonstrates his commitment to depicting the war with precision.
A curious fact, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, in the story The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, the famous detective claims to be related to Vernet, stating that his grandmother was the artist’s sister.