Born in Avignon, Vernet went to Rome at the age of twenty to become a history painter. He soon took to landscape painting after discovering the art of Claude Gellée, Salvator Rosa and Andrea Locatelli, and decided to join the studio of Adrien Manglard, a successful French marine painter. He travelled to Naples in 1737 and on many other occasions. By 1740, Vernet had established a reputation as a painter of marines and French diplomats as well as English travellers were to be among Vernet's most consistent patrons. In 1753, Vernet returned to France to work on the prestigious royal commission of the Ports de France series, which was to occupy him for over a decade. These works were very well received when they were exhibited at the Salons between 1755-65.
By 1765 he settled in Paris and returned to painting variations on themes of Italianate landscapes, calm seaports, stormy coasts, shipwrecks and moonlit harbours that had first brought him to such prominence, and which were still much sought-after by his eager patrons. The present picture and the following lot are good examples dating from this period.
Prince Dimitry Alekseyevich Golitsyn (1734-1803) was the Russian ambassador to France from 1763, and was an eminent connoisseur of art. He became one of Catherine the Great's most important agents, and was responsible for some major purchases for the Hermitage Museum, including Chardin's Attributes of the Arts, Rembrandt's Old woman with a book, and Return of the Prodigal Son, and David Teniers II's The Wedding Feast. He also built up a considerable private collection of art, which was inherited by his descendants. This collection itself found its way into the Hermitage when it was purchased by the Museum in 1886.