In 1845 Horace Vernet lost his beloved daughter Louise, wife of the painter Paul Delaroche. Expressions of sympathy from France’s intellectual elite supported the aging artist, but most of all the concern of the royal family of Louis-Philippe helped to restore Horace Vernet’s energies.
The present painting commemorates an event from Louis-Philippe’s youth, and if it was an official commission, is was well timed and well intended. It did not hurt, that it also shored up the king’s shaky popularity. Vernet’s painting was finished in 1847, one year later the revolution swept away the king and much of the Royal collection.
The eighteen-year old Louis-Philippe, then carrying the title duc de Chartres, joined his regiment in the garrisons of Vendôme in June of 1791. He was well-liked by his troops, showing “great restraint” when the flight of Louis XVI caused tensions. When he saved a drowning man, the city of Vendôme rewarded him in a solemn act with a couronne civique (civil crown). Vendôme on the Loire is characterized by a steep castle-crowned hill and the church of La Trinité, both recognizable in Vernet’s painting.
The present painting bears the stamp of a royal collection. However, it must have left the collection early on, perhaps during the turmoils of the revolution, or it might never have been displayed.
The painting is not included in Eudox Soulié’s comprehensive catalogue of the Museum at Versailles of 1854-55. Two copies are listed today at the Musée Versailles, one by Elie Lecomte (inv. no. MV5 180, 1.02 x 1.31 m). We are very grateful for help from Michael Marrrinan, author of Painting Politics for Louis-Philippe. Art and Ideology in Orléaniste France, 1830-1848, Yale University Press, 1988.