Inside the port of Marseille, Joseph Vernet

The 27 September 1753 Louis XV command Vernet series Ports of France, he starts 16 October. Exhibited in Paris

The Interior of the Port of Marseille, seen from the Pavilion of the Clock of the Park © National Museum of the Navy / A. Fux

Depot of the department of paintings, museum of the Louvre (Inv. 8 294)

Joseph Vernet (1714 - 1789)
Oil on canvas
165 x 263 cm
Inventory number MnM 5 OA 3 D
Exhibition Paris, palace of Chaillot

After living for a long time in Italy, Vernet moved to Marseille in 1753. However, if the city is rich and dynamic, it is far from the role of artistic capital. Vernet understood that he could not find a sufficient clientele there. As early as July, he left for Paris where, on the 23 August, he was received at the Royal Academy of Painting. On 27 September, he received from Louis XV the order of the series of Ports of France.


"... a picture concerning the port with the considerable quantity of merchant vessels of all kinds and nations which are continually present there ..."

On October 16, Vernet is back in Marseille and set to work.
Less than a year later, the 29 September 1754, he left for Toulon. The two views of the port of Marseille are exhibited at the Salon of 1755.


The view is taken from the top of the Clock of the Clock dominating the current wharf of the Belgians. In front, spreads out the basin of the old port, closed to the right by the tower of Fort Saint-Jean. Sailboats clutter the dock and the masters cover up most of the facades. Vernet however took care to clear that of the town hall, with triangular pediments and its medallion carved by Pierre Puget (1620 - 1694). On the other side of the pass, which is 40 meters wide, stands the mound of the "Tête de More", on the site of the present Pharo park.
In the foreground, immersed in the shadow, is the facade of the arsenal of the galleys, a real city in the city. In reality, there were only eleven galleys left in Marseilles because, since 1748, Toulon had the supremacy in military naval matters.


On the other hand, Marseilles remains the leading commercial port in France. The quantity of vessels moored is undoubtedly little exaggerated by Vernet; in some years, up to two thousand merchant ships pass through the port.
The orientals, who all seem to wear Turkish costumes, are clearly recognizable. Marseilles has excellent relations with the Sublime Porte, and holds the monopoly of trade with countries under Ottoman domination, from Egypt to Greece. Marseilles also trades with Barbarie Scales, ie Libya and North Africa, as well as Italy and Spain.


On the wharf a ship landed wheat, for Provence, a poor producer of cereals, imported from southern Italy and the Levant. Near the boat, a man sift the grain. It belongs to the corporation of "gabeleurs-jurés", charged by the town with the sorting of the products which can contain impurities.
Vernet represents other trades related to the life of the port, such as weighers. Placed under royal protection, they have the right to carry the sword. One of them, in a red jacket, appears on the left. Porters, barefoot, also called "win-deniers", hold the privilege of transporting goods loaded or disembarked.
On the left, a man dressed in black, but wearing lace sleeves, watches the marking of a bale. To the right of the Turkish group, another man, dressed in a similar way, checks the fasteners of a canvas bundle. They could belong to the chamber of commerce, which played the role of intermediary between the royal power and the ladders.
Behind the orientals, a man passes, carrying a tuna under his arm. The fishermen's guild then counts two hundred and sixty-four boats, and where two thousand men work.

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