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 Lorrain, Salvator Rosa and Andrea Locatelli. He travelled to Naples in 1737 and on many other occasions. By 1740, Vernet had established himself as a painter of landscapes and marines, and French diplomats as well as English gentlemen making their Grand Tour were to be among Vernet's most consistent patrons. In 1753, Vernet returned to France to work on the royal commission of the Ports de France series. It was to be an extremely ambitious undertaking; ten years later fifteen of the proposed twenty paintings had been completed and the project was left unfinished.
The present pair was commissioned by Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de la Ferté, an art collector, critic, and savant, who held the most influential post at court of Intendant et Contrôleur général de l'Argenterie, Menus Plaisirs et affaires de la Chambre au Roi. His position at court enabled him to meet some of the greatest artists in Paris. He commissioned pictures from Boucher (see A. Ananoff, François Boucher, Lausanne and Paris, 1976, II, nos. 394, 401 - 409, 458 - 459, 656) and owned a landscape by Fragonard (possibly Preparing for Blindman's Bluff, 1773, Louvre, Paris). His career was ended prematurely when he was tried and guillotined on 7 July 1794. His collection was seized and (possibly partially) sold on 20 February 1797. The Vernet panels were not included in this sale.
Vernet's livre de raison lists seven separate commissions for eleven pictures from Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillion de la Ferté from 1767 to 1785. The most ambitious of these commissions was for four large paintings intended to decorate a salon of his Paris hôtel particulier. The first pair (Ingersoll-Smouse, nos. 1005 - 1006) of the series of four, Calm Sea; Harbour with Setting Sun and Tempest with a Wrecked Ship, was exhibited in the Salon of 1777. The second pair, illustrated here, was exhibited at the Salon of 1779. The entire suite cost de la Ferté 20,000 livres. All four pictures remained together until the Comte Roy's sale in 1848. The whereabouts of the first pair is at present unknown; they were last seen in an exhibtion on the Boulevard des Italiens in 1850, lent by a M. Lanuville (see Lagrange, op. cit., p. 197). Apart from Vernet's livre de raison and the Salon catalogues, the series remained unpublished until 1979.