The French landscape and marine painter Claude Joseph Vernet was born on August 14, 1714 as the son of painter Antoine Vernet in Avignon. He received his first lessons from his father, who later sent him to the painter Louis René de Vialy (1680–1770) in Aix-en-Provence. Starting in 1731, Vernet studied under Philippe Sauvan (1698–1789) in Avignon.
At the recommendation of the Marquise de Caumont, who became aware of the artist, Vernet was able to travel to Rome in 1734 on a scholarship. This is where he studied with the marine painters Bernardino Fergioni (1675–1736) and Adrien Maglard (1695–1760). He became a member of the Accademia di San Luca beginning in 1743.
In 1745, Claude Joseph Vernet married the Englishwoman Virginia Parker, the daughter of an officer of the papal navy and became the agrée of the Paris Académie Royale. In an arrangement organized by Antoine Jacques de Marigny, the artist was called to Paris to the court of the French King Louis XV (1710–74) in 1743.
The latter commissioned him to paint views of the 24 most important French harbors. This journey, which lasted until 1762, took him to cities like Marseille, Toulon, Antibes, Cette, Bordeaux, Bayonne, Rochefort, and La Rochelle.
Claude Joseph Vernet later also worked for other members of the French aristocracy and English clients. In addition, he received commissions from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. He also frequently worked for the Parisian banker to the court Jean Jos de Laborde (1724–94), who was beheaded in 1794.
During the years 1769–73, Claude Joseph Vernet produced a series of five large pictures for Du Barry. The works that he created after 1776 are rather inferior to those of his early period and middle years. The artist moved into an apartment and a studio in the Louvre, becoming a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
Claude Joseph Vernet died on December 3, 1789 in Paris.