The present pictures were commissioned from Vernet by Ernest Guido, Graf von Harrach (1723-1783) in April 1751 as part of a set of four paintings representing the times of the day. The Liber Veritatis records this commission, together with two larger compositions ordered in the same year, for which the Count apparently paid 520 Roman ecus (L. Lagrange, op. cit., p. 361, no. 44).
The arrival of the six pictures in Vienna evidently evoked an enthusiastic public response. Lagrange records that 'L'Autriche son tour s'meut. Tout Vienne vient admirer chez le comte d'Harrach six tableaux de Vernet, improviss en un an et pays 2,600 livres' (op. cit., p. 49).
Born in Avignon, Vernet went to Rome in 1734 at the age of twenty to become a history painter. He soon turned to landscape painting after discovering the art of Claude Gelle, Salvator Rosa and Andrea Locatelli at first hand, and decided to join the studio of the successful French marine painter, Adrien Manglard. By 1740, Vernet had established his own reputation and began receiving commissions from French diplomats and European travellers who were among his most consistent patrons. He returned to France in 1753 to begin work on the royal commission of the Ports de France series.
Ernest Guido, Graf von Harrach, who succeeded his father Friedrich August, Graf von Harrach in 1748, inherited an outstanding collection of pictures built up by his family over the previous three generations. His great-grandfather, Ferdinand Bonaventura, Graf von Harrach (1636-1706), who served as ambassador to Madrid, acquired notable Spanish works, pictures by Luca Giordano and the celebrated panel after which the Master of the Female Half-Lengths was named. His grandfather, Aloys Thomas (1668-1742), who was Viceroy of Naples and Sicily in 1728-33, built up an unrivalled collection of pictures of the Neapolitan School and was also an outstanding patron of contemporary architects. While his father, Friedrich August (1696-1748), who was deputy-governor of the Netherlands, seems to have collected northern works, Ernest Guido, who unlike his predecessors held no major public position, was a collector of contemporary pictures with a particular interest in Rome. Subject pictures by Conca, Batoni and Constanzi were matched by landscapes. In addition to his six Vernets, he also acquired pictures by Panini, Manglard and Bonavia.