Pierre-Jacques Volaire

Dates1729 - 1799

Pierre-Jacques Volaire came from a well-known family of painters in Toulon; his father was the city's official painter. Called le chevalier Volaire (knight Volaire), his career really began in 1754, when Joseph Vernet arrived, sent by Louis XV to paint French ports. Vernet took Volaire as his assistant, and they traveled together for eight years. Volaire was strongly influenced by Vernet's sharp observation and his interest in perfect finish and the effects of moonlight and precise, artificial light. By 1764 Volaire had left for Rome, where he made landscapes and seascapes until 1769. He then moved on to Naples, where night scenes became his specialty, showing silhouetted figures against vivid contrasts of cool moonlight and warm fires.

Mount Vesuvius's eruption in 1771 probably prompted Volaire to paint the volcanic eruptions in moonlight that gained him a European reputation. He exhibited in Paris only three times. He was denied official recognition in France when, in 1786, he tried to sell one of his Vesuvius pictures to Louis XVI; the work of a contemporary landscape painter, especially one with sensational effects like Volaire, was not considered sufficiently dignified. Volaire also created pastels and drawings, and his works were engraved.