Two landscape paintings by French master Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) have been reunited at the Dallas Museum of Art — the first time they’ve been together since 1806, when they were sold to separate, private collections by their original owner, Lord Lansdowne, who commissioned them in 1774. The two, contrasting, large-scale paintings — A Grand View of the Sea Shore (above) and Mountain Landscape with an Approaching Storm (below) — hung together in Landsowne’s London home. Vernet , who specialized in maritime scenes, spent a great deal of his career in Rome, becoming popular with British aristocrats who encountered him on their Grand Tours through Europe. Vernet even married an Englishwoman. But he is best known for his series of French seaports, commissioned by Louis XVI and now in the Musée National de la Marine and the Louvre, where Vernet died in his lodgings in 1789.
The DMA acquired the Mountain Landscape decades ago; the Sea Shore is on loan from collector David H. Koch, one of the pair of billionaire Koch brothers who push radical conservative causes. The Sea Shore had been presumed lost but when Olivier Meslay, the DMA’s senior curator and interim director, learned early this year that it had re-surfaced and was up for auction, he raised $4 million in four days to buy it — but was outbid by Koch. Meslay then asked him for the loan of the painting. Heather MacDonald, associate curator of European art at the DMA, has written a catalogue in conjunction with the matched set — Stormy Skies, Calm Waters: Vernet’s Lansdowne Landscapes — the first full-length English publication on Vernet in 30 years.
For this near-acquisition and for Meslay’s efforts getting the blockbuster Gaultier exhibition to town — he was the first even to inquire at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts whether it could tour — the Houston Chronicle critic has suggested the DMA’s interim director be considered to fill the empty seat heading up Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
The Vernet pair will be on view in the DMA’s second-floor European galleries through December 11. Read the full release here.