Departure for the Hunt in the Pontine Marshes, Horace Vernet
Oil on canvas, roughly 40 x 60 inches ( 100 x 150 cm); in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Vernet was a French painter active in the early 19th century, and his subjects included battles and historic events, portraits and Orientalist themes.
Here, he is fascinated with the landscape, even if the subject is ostensibly the hunters depicted as small figures in the shadows at middle right, behind the second foreground tree.
When I first visited the National Gallery, years ago — even among the stunning masterpieces in the collection — this and another Vernet painting of a similar subject caught my attention.
In this painting, it’s his use of value relationships that make the painting so striking for me — the contrast of the layers of dark and light, foreground to middle ground to background.
Another element of contrast is the wonderful difference in the texture of the three primary trees, two standing and one fallern.
I also love the dark mass of trees, punctuated with light, to the right of the composition, that lead our eye back into the painting.