Vernet: Shipwreck in a Thunderstorm


Claude-Joseph Vernet, Shipwreck in a Thunderstorm. 1770. Oil on canvas.

Claude-Joseph Vernet: Shipwreck in a Thunderstorm

Kant on Vernet's Shipwreck in a Thunderstrom:

Vernet's painting is not beautiful: it approaches the Sublime. Upon looking at the violence of the storm, the fear of the sailors, the deep obscurity and the unrelenting and powerful flow of the waves against the reef, the viewer is submerged with emotions of awe, dread, but also wonder.

Vernet has concentrated such power on his canvas! The scale of the figure compared to Nature, or the contrast with the obscurity and the lightning, the vastness and the darkness of the sky, everything is designed to elicit in the viewer sensations of both amazement at the beauty of the scene but also of fear and wonder as he realizes his own limits when faced with the greatness, immensity and omnipotence of the forces of Nature. 

Vernet allows for the viewer to develop a sense of awareness of his place in the universe, he takes him out of the petty affairs of his everyday life to contemplate, for a precious moment, on himslef, his strength, and his weaknesses. 

Moreover, Vernet has instilled in the painting its own life and its own dignity. The emotions it raises will never tame and will continue to amaze, bewilder and move for generations to come.