The present picture and its pendant, Tempête avec le naufrage d'un vaisseau (location unknown), were both commissioned from Vernet by Mr. Pope (or Paupe), a patron and esteemed friend of the artist. Mr. Pope was a 'marchand de rubans' (textile dealer), who met Vernet around 1778 and acquired twenty paintings from the artist over the course of ten years, which he proudly kept in the back of his boutique 'Au Cordon Bleu' (10 rue aux Fers, Paris) for all to admire. His collection also included numerous pictures from the Flemish and Dutch schools as well as several pictures by other French artists such as Greuze and Fragonard.
Although not expressly requested by Pope, Vernet spontaneously incorporated a portrait of himself and his family in the picture to express his appreciation of his patron. This is not unique in Vernet's work: in his younger years, he had depicted himself with his family in a number of paintings (see Lagrange, op. cit., p. 65).
As described by Léon Lagrange, the biographer of the artist, the group of people on the pier are portraits of: 'Vernet lui-même, sa fille, madame Chalgrin, Carle Vernet avec sa femme, mademoiselle Moreau, et un domestique, sans doute le fidèle Saint-Jean', (op. cit., p. 274.)
Emilie Chalgrin, shown in the picture arm-in-arm with Vernet, was born in 1760. She was Vernet's only daughter and he treasured her. At the age of sixteen, she married Jean-Franois Chalgrin, the famous architect responsible for the Hôtel de la Vrillière in Paris. Emilie was painted by Jacques-Louis David (location unknown) shortly before being arrested, during the Terreur, on a false accusation of possessing furniture that belonged to the Révolution; she was sent to the guillotine in 1794.
Carle Vernet (1758-1836), was Vernet's youngest son. To the great satisfaction of his father, he showed early talent as a painter and was sent, at the age of ten, to study in Lepicié's studio. Accepted into the Académie in 1789, he became well-known as a battle and equestrian painter as well as a caricaturist and lithographer. He is shown in the present picture, behind his father, by his wife, Fanny Moreau, whom he had married in 1787. Fanny was the daughter of the draughtsman and painter Jean-Michel Moreau, called Moreau le Jeune (1741-1814). Their son, Horace Vernet, born in 1789, was to follow in the Vernet family tradition and become a well-known history painter.
The servant holding a portfolio, just behind the two couples, is likely to be Saint-Jean, an Italian, who served Joseph Vernet for almost thirty years. Two members of Joseph Vernet's family are missing in the picture: his eldest son, Livio, who had left Paris in 1785, to take a position as receveur-général in Avignon, and Vernet's wife, who was suffering from mental disease and had been in a nursing home since 1779.
The present picture and its pendant were both exhibited in the salon of 1789, shortly after the death of Mr. Pope. Vernet, aged seventy-five, exhibited sixteen pictures. His late works were much praised by contemporary critics: 'depuis cinquante ans ce peintre attend vraiment dans l'arène quelque athlete assez hardi pour se mesurer avec lui... il est donc étonnant qu'à l'âge où le génie des Corneille et des Voltaire était sans vigueur, le célèbre Vernet soit ce qu'il a toujours été, c'est à dire sublime', (Remarques sur les Ouvrages du Salon par C.D.M.M. de plusieurs académies, 1789, no. 20, p. 9). The 1789 salon was to be the last of Vernet's career: he died a few months later.
Shortly following the Pope sale, both pictures were acquired by Laurent Gaspard Grimod de la Reynière, fermier général and membre honoraire associé libre of the Académie. Beneficiary of a wealthy and highly cultivated heritage, La Reynière lived in a hôtel particulier, built for him at the corner of the Place de la Concorde, today the American Embassy in Paris. His distinguished collection of French paintings was sold at auction during the Revolution.
This picture and its pendant were separated after the 1816 sale. A copy, executed by Jean-Henry d'Arles and his studio was sold at Sotheby's, Monaco, 30 June 1995, lot 44.