“How are you, Horace; where have you kept yourself for these two years? I have not met you for years.”
“You are mistaken,” replied the artist; “I met you six months since in the garden of the Tuileries.”
“You are dreaming,” said the marquis.
“No,” said Vernet, “a lady was with you—wait a moment and I will sketch her face.”
He drew a few hasty lines upon a bit of paper, and lo! the marquis beheld the face of an intimate lady friend of his, and at the same instant remembered that he had escorted her across the Tuileries gardens six months before.
“It is well for you that you live now” said the marquis, “for two centuries earlier they would have burned you for a sorcerer.”
Horace Vernet has been a great student of the scriptures, and he maintains that in painting historical scenes from the bible, the costumes should be such as the Arabians use at this time, and in his scripture paintings he has followed out this plan.
In 1834 and 1835 he was principally on the coast of Africa, engaged in painting. But he returned to his studio at Versailles, and in 1836 produced several grand battle-pictures. The king desired that he should fill an entire gallery with his pictures at Versailles, and Vernet went at his giant work. He occupied six years, and the gallery was called la Galerie de Constentine. The king came into his studio one day, and offered to make Vernet a peer. The painter declined the honor, saying “the bourgeois rise—the nobles fall—leave me with the arts.”
He was one day painting the Siege of Valenciennes for the king, when the latter requested that the painter would represent Louis XIV. as prominent in the siege. Vernet consulted history, and found that during the siege the king was three leagues away with one of his mistresses. He therefore utterly refused to lie upon canvas. The king was very angry, and several persons were sent to persuade Vernet to consent, for pay, to make the concession. He however remained firm, and picking up his effects and selling his pictures, started for St. Petersburgh, where he was received with open arms by Nicholas. While at the Russian court, Vernet spoke freely his sentiments, and condemned the taking of Poland. “Bah!” said the Czar, “you look from a French point of view—I from the Russian. I dare say, now, you would refuse to paint me the taking of Warsaw.”
“No, sire,” replied the painter, sublimely; “every day we represent Christ upon the cross!”
Louis Philippe sent by his ambassador for Vernet to return to Paris. “You may paint the Siege of Valenciennes without any Louis XIV. in it, if you please,” he said. The painter was received warmly, and the old quarrel was forgotten. He at once commenced a picture of immense size—the taking of Smala, which in eight months he finished.
The repose of Horace Vernet is in his travels, and he is one of the greatest of modern travelers. It is said that the Arabian tribes love and respect him, and that he returns gladly to their society whenever duty requires it.