Antoine Vernet, the great-grandfather of Horace, lived in the time of Mademoiselle de L’Enclos, a very celebrated courtesan, and it is said by some that he was the author of the portrait of her which exists at this day, but it is proved that he never left Argnon, where he lived as an artist. The grandfather of the subject of this sketch—Claude-Joseph Vernet—studied in Rome, and became a distinguished marine painter under the reign of Louis XV., who commissioned him to paint a series of pictures. Carle Vernet, the father of Horace Vernet, was also an artist. When quite young, he fell violently in love with the daughter of an opulent furnisher. The marriage was impossible, and his friends, to wean him from his love, sent him to Italy, where he studied the art of painting, and took a high prize—but he could not forget the woman he had loved. In his grief he resolved to give himself up to a monastic life, and his letters from Italy apprised his friends of that fact. His father hastened to Italy and brought him back to France, where he at once acquired distinction as a painter, and was elected a member of the Academy of Painting. He painted several grand battle-scenes under the empire, and in 1789 became the father of the Horace Vernet, so justly distinguished in modern times.
Horace was taught the art of his father, and he learned to draw at the same time that he learned to read. In 1793 the family of artists experienced many dangers, and on the 18th of August, while his father and Horace were crossing the court of the Tuileries palace, Horace was shot through the hat, while a ball pierced the clothes of the father. Carle Vernet was about to hasten from France when new terrors detained him. His sister had married M. Chalgrin, an architect, who adhered to the fortunes of the court of Provence. For this, the mob had revenge upon his beautiful wife, who was thrown into the Abbaye prison. Carle Vernet hastened to his brother artist, David, who was in favor with the revolutionists, and who could easily save his sister’s life. He besought David to save his sister, but he coolly replied:
“She is an aristocrat, and I will not trouble myself about her.” She perished, and the reason was, that in early life she had refused the matrimonial offers of the painter.
The youthful Horace was reckoned very beautiful by all his friends, and especially by his father. He was a model, in fact, and as he grew up, he showed that he had inherited the artist-genius of his father, and added to it a wit peculiarly his own. His sallies were often exceedingly amusing to the people in whose company he chiefly spent his time. He entered college, and as soon as he had quitted it he was already distinguished as an artist. Instead of going back to ancient times, he painted his own age. He was enthusiastic in all his efforts, and catching the spirit of the times, grew rapidly popular. He did not live in the past, but in the living present, and endeavored to glorify the men, deeds, and places of to-day.