Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto
- Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto
- Venice, a view of Piazza San Marco looking east towards the basilica;
Venice, the Grand Canal looking north-east from the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin to the Rialto bridge
- a pair, both oil on canvas
His sale, London, Christie’s, 11 April 1818, lot 93 (Rialto), £48.6s to Park and lot 94 (Piazza San Marco), to Beauchamp;
William, 2nd Earl Beauchamp (1782 – 1823);
Thence by descent to William, 7th Earl Beauchamp (d.1938), of Madresfield Court, Worcestershire and Halkyn House, Belgrave Square;
With Asscher and Welker, London;
Acquired from the above 18 May 1939 by Arthur Bisgood, England;
Thence by descent and gift until anonymously sold (‘The Property of a Charitable Trust’), London, Sotheby’s, 3 December 1997, lot 48, where acquired by Safra Republic Holdings.
W.G. Constable, Giovanni Antonio Canal, Canaletto, London 1962 (and subsequent editions revised by J.G. Links), vol. II, p. 186, no. 3 (San Marco) and p. 279, no. 228(a)3 (Rialto);
L. Puppi, L’opera completa del Canaletto, Milan 1968, p. 111, nos. 242B (Rialto) and 243 (San Marco);
J.G. Links, Canaletto. The Complete Paintings, London 1981, p. 64, under no. 200 (the Rialto) and under no. 201 (San Marco);
A. Corboz, Canaletto,. Una Venecia immaginaria, Milan 1985, vol. II, p. 656, no. P. 336 (San Marco);
J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Pictures, vol. I, London 1985, p. 239, under no. P511;
J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto, London 1998, p. 5, no. 3;
K. Villis, 'New Attributions: A Tocqué and a Bellotto in Melbourne', in The Annual Journal of the National Gallery of Victoria, 48, 2008, p. 83 ('may also be by Bellotto');
B.A. Kowalczyck, Canaletto e Bellotto. L’arte della veduta, exhibition catalogue, Turin 2008, p. 68, under no. 7;
B.A. Kowalczyck, Canaletto- Guardi. Les deux maîtres de Venise, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2012, pp. 101 (under cat. no. 16), 103 (under cat. no. 17);
A. Lo Bianco, in Canaletto à Venise, exhibition catalogue, Musée Maillol, Paris, 19 September 2012 - 10 February 2013, p. 100.
By the early 1730s Canaletto was unrivalled in his field and he continued to dominate the genre of view painting until the end of the decade and beyond. Commissions from English noblemen monopolised his time in the 1730s, largely via his agent Joseph Smith (later consul from 1744-60), and though no certain ownership history of these paintings is known until the end of the 18th century when they were bought by the English businessman John Furnell Tuffen, it is most likely that they too were either acquired in Venice through Smith by a so-called English ‘grand tourist’ and brought back to England or, as was also common, commissioned from England itself by post. In 1731-2 the 4th Duke of Bedford had commissioned twenty-four canvases from Canaletto which he executed over a period of several years from 1732 to 1736; soon afterwards the 3rd Duke of Marlborough commissioned a further twenty, and in 1738 Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle commissioned five, these latter on a large format. The present pair of paintings dates from 1738-9, immediately after the completion of the Marlborough series, at the same moment as the Carlisle set, and thoroughly in the same spirit as both.
The view of Rialto is taken from the south-west looking north-east as the Grand Canal approaches the famous low-arched bridge before lurching westward. It encapsulates the bustling nature of life in and around the busiest stretch of the Grand Canal. It is, clearly, a cold day, the ladies and gentleman of Venice wrapped up in their winter coats and only the hard-working gondoliers daring shirt-sleeves. Rialto was both the geographical and commercial centre of Venice, being the only crossing point of the Grand Canal, and housed the principal markets in the city which were situated on the left (or western) quay. These were the Fabbriche Nuove and Fabbriche Vecchie just behind the Palazzo Carmelenghi, whose tall classical windows can be seen full frontal just above the lower end of the left slope of the bridge. Behind them were the Pescharia (fish market) and Erberia (greengrocers market). The bridge itself, erected in 1591 to a design by Antonio da Ponte, is lined with small booth-like shops, six on either side of the central arch on each of the north and south sides of a central causeway, selling luxury merchandise that was both manufactured in the city itself and also imported from the east. On the eastern quay (here to the right) were the major banks, insurance companies and tax offices and here many of the richest bankers built their palazzi, next to or on top of their businesses. Thus here we see dominating the right hand side of the painting, over the small bridge that crosses the Rio di San. Salvatore on the Fondamenta del Carbon, the impressive colonnaded Palazzo Dolfin-Manin which had been built for the Dolfin family of bankers to a design by Venice’s leading Renaissance architect Jacopo Sansovino; more latterly it has been home of the Banca d’Italia. Its position next to the elegant Gothic Palazzo Bembo, whose corner can just be seen at the extreme right, is perhaps symptomatic of Venice’s seamless synergy of the Gothic and the Classical. The great palazzi look across the canal at the rambling architecture of the retail district (lining the canal along the Riva del Vin to our left), against which are moored all manner of gondole and barche (barges). The scene is animated by a cool late afternoon light, the winter sun drenching the facades of the palazzo on the eastern shore and casting lengthening shadows from the west to east as it begins its descent to the horizon. All but a few of the shop fronts are closed, including all of those on Rialto bridge itself, suggesting that the day’s commercial activities are at or near an end as the festivities of the Venetian night beckon.
Canaletto painted Rialto from every possible angle. Here he takes up position in the centre of the Grand Canal allowing him to portray in three-quarter profile the elegant palazzi that line the right or eastern bank. The present view is the prototype which all of the later autograph examples follow. Of these, of particular note are those in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris (fig. 1), the Galleria Nazionale (Palazzo Barberini) in Rome and the Wallace Collection, London.1 The example in the Jacquemart-André, likewise paired with a View of Piazza San Marco (fig. 2) and of the same dimensions (45 by 76 cm) was for some time considered the work of the young Bernardo Bellotto but is today unanimously attributed to Canaletto. It corresponds closely to a large drawing by Bellotto in the Rijksmuseum which was most likely made after the painting by Canaletto.2 Another version, cutting out much of the Riva del Vin to the left and including a distinguished visitor (probably Prince of Saxony) descending the steps of Rialto to the right to embark upon one of several highly decorated barges, reappeared at Christie’s New York in 1996.3 Two copies by Bellotto exist: one in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne;4 and another which was bought in Venice by 9th Earl Lincoln (later Duke of Newcastle) during his visit between 5th June and 12th July 1741, providing a terminus ante quem for the execution of the present original version.5
The view of Piazza San Marco looks due east straight at the basilica. The sun would appear to be a little higher than in the view of Rialto, casting shadows to the north as it reaches its highest point to the south of the island and beams light into the arches of the Procuratie Vecchie while those of the Procuratie Nuove to the right remain in shadow, as they do throughout the day. The square is illuminated by a dazzling, clear light, the numerous figures that populate it well-protected from the deceptive chill. A few fluffy clouds traverse the sky, but the day is set fair. Canaletto may have positioned himself on a scaffold in front of the small church that separated the western wings of the north and south procuratie (since demolished and now the Napoleonic wing) attaining an angle looking down on the square from a height of perhaps twenty feet, and enabling him to both include the full height of the campanile and to diminish the dominance of the Procuratie which, from ground level, would totally dominate the sides of the composition.6 More likely, however, he simply imagined the scene from this higher viewpoint, as became his speciality, artificially shrinking the campanile for the sake of pictorial completeness. He achieves a sense of cohesion where nothing is dominant and the figures and architecture seamlessly interact.
Piazza San Marco provided Canaletto with both the grandeur and architectural harmony that he so craved and he painted it from nearly every conceivable angle throughout his career. The prospect from the western end of the piazza looking east towards the basilica along the central line was his most favoured view. The earliest such view, also the largest, is in the Thyssen Museum in Madrid and has long been considered one of the great masterpieces of the painter’s first style (fig. 3).7 Painted in 1723, it records the relaying of the paving to a geometrical design by Andrea Tirali, the same that exists today. After this and preceding the present version are, chronologically: the painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (gift of Mrs Charles Wrightsman);8 the painting of the same dimensions as the present version in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, payments for which are documented between 1733-36;9 probably concurrent is the version at Milton Park (engraved by Visentini and published in his Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum in 1742);10 and chronologically subsequent are those in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge (Mass.),11 and a version, uniquely signed and dated 1744, last seen on the London art market in 1972.12 Much later examples, probably painted during the artist’s sojourn in England, include that formerly in the collection of the Earl of Durham and another sold Sotheby’s London, 3 July 1997, lot 94.13 The paintings all share a similar mise-en-scène, though the figures are perhaps most numerous in the present work.
Another version, sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2006 and formerly in the collection of Sir Michael Sobell, was unanimously considered as by Canaletto until the re-emergence of the present painting in 1997 (fig. 4).14 It follows the present work in much of its detail but even a summary comparison reveals stylistic deviations that can now be recognised as characteristic of the young Bellotto. The reluctance of both W.G. Constable and Stefan Kozakiewicz to attribute Venetian views to Bellotto meant that until recently just a handful were accepted as his work and it was not until the late 1990s that modern scholars began to re-address this question. Charles Beddington’s 2004 article in The Burlington Magazine, entitled "Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy. Part I: not Canaletto but Bellotto", brilliantly summarised the situation and finally added a sense of closure to the issue of Bellotto’s Venetian view paintings and now more than sixty bear his name. It was indeed Beddington who first identified the ex-Sobell version as the work of Bellotto, noting the stylistic differences, the larger canvas size, the even cooler tonality and the more pronounced use of black outlines as hallmarks of Bellotto’s style.
Bellotto seems to have entered the studio of his uncle Canaletto some time in the late 1730s. He was a precocious talent, producing in his teens paintings of an unimaginable quality and verve. Though wholly Canalettesque, Bellotto’s Venetian views are marked by a cool tonality with a somewhat wintry air that contrasts with the sun-baked stones and sun-drenched canals of Canaletto’s work throughout the prior years of the 1730s. Though attempts have been made to argue for the teenage Bellotto affecting the change in Canaletto’s art that sees him adopt similar crystalline and translucent tones from circa 1738-42 it seems highly unlikely that such a young and wholly inexperienced boy could have, on his own, brought about such a transformation in the style of Europe’s leading view painter. There are in fact signs of change in Canaletto’s works from the mid-1730s, especially in the set painted for the Duke of Marlborough, and it is thus much more likely that Canaletto’s changing style simply happened to coincide with Bellotto’s emergence in the studio, and ended at roughly the point of his departure to the mainland in 1742.
This short period would however deliver some of the master’s finest and best loved works, such as the remarkable View of the Bacino in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, also of 1738-9, that could justifiably lay claim to being Canaletto’s most detailed painting and that was one of the five works commissioned by the 4th Earl of Carlisle (fig. 5).15 The present works belong to this exceptional period and stand out for the precision of their execution and invigorating tonality.
CANALETTO & THE VENETIAN VEDUTE
The execution of these paintings coincides with a time considered the very pinnacle of Venetian view painting, and looking back at both Canaletto’s own career and the evolution of the Venetian veduta up to this point allows, perhaps, for a better understanding of their coming to being. The first dated veduta truly in the tradition of vedutismo is a view of the Molo from the bacino by the Dutchman Gaspar van Wittel, known as Vanvitelli, from 1697.16 Vanvitelli was however in Venice but briefly and it fell to a local man, Luca Carlevarijs, to truly launch the genre in Venice, which he did in the very earliest years of the 18th century. His View of Piazza San Marco looking east from 1710-15 is, ultimately, the precursor to Canaletto’s own such views. Carlevarijs’s paintings dwell heavily on the figures and the balance is weighed more in their favour than in that of the architecture. He mostly chooses a close-up perspective, filling the foreground with carefully delineated, though rather static, figures. His early views of Venice however must be seen to have formed the basis for all Venetian vedute painted subsequent to them.
Comparing Carlevarijs’s earliest view of Piazza San Marco with Canaletto’s earliest such view from 1723 (fig. 3) we see already the differing vision of the young pretender and, besides, the formula to which Canaletto would stick for decades to come. Where Carlevarijs’s view of the piazza is somewhat oppressively full of large and dominant characters, with the multi-storeyed Procuratie dominating the margins, the light somewhat artificial and the whole overhung by threateningly dark clouds, Canaletto’s is by contrast refreshingly uncluttered, set back, and bathed in a more realistic watery sunlight. He has raised the viewpoint and it is of a formula remarkably similar to that of the present lot which, though painted nearly two decades later, owes the principles of its composition to the 1723 prototype. Canaletto lends the piazza a width utterly absent in the Carlevarijs, despite the large dimensions of the canvas, and somehow manages to convincingly include the full height of the campanile. Canaletto made regular use of the camera obscura which would project a faint image of a view onto a surface that could then be traced; then, in order to add a sense of creativity to the scene and to disguise his use of a mechanical device, he would artificially adapt the scene. Taking a high viewpoint, as here, clearly disguises his use of the camera. Another good example of this is the afore-mentioned View of the Bacino in Boston which is seemingly from a viewpoint high above the water of the Giudecca Canal. Such a viewpoint would have been hard to achieve in any case, but it is one utterly impossible with the camera obscura which, to function at all, required a completely stable surface. In fact, Canaletto has simply taken the view as seen from the Dogana through the camera obscura and changed the point from which he depicts it. Bellotto would often take two or three tracings from the camera obscura of a panorama and combine them to best suit his purpose in to a single picture.17
In his 1723 view of Piazza San Marco, and indeed in all of those subsequent to it, Canaletto achieves a synergy and balance between architecture and figures; in this regard he would be imitated by almost all subsequent painters of the Venetian view. His technique in 1723 however is very different indeed from what we see in 1738/9; it has a rawness and youthful flourish that would soon give way to the polish and refinement on which he would ultimately make his name.
Thus by 1730 Canaletto had lightened his palette and settled into a formula that would define his greatest decade. The tenebrous tones of his early work give way to a new sense of quiet grandeur and noble simplicity that prefigure the theorising of Johann Joachim Wincklemann a decade or so later. And it is perhaps no coincidence that at precisely the same moment Venice’s greatest ecclesiastical and history painter, Gian Battista Tiepolo, moved away from the tenebrism of the baroque and of his master Gian Battista Piazzetta to a similar, lighter palette.
The decade would also herald the birth of Canaletto’s star on a commercial front. An Englishman, Joseph Smith, who would later serve as consul from 1744-60, served first as an important patron to Canaletto in the 1720s before turning his hand to that of art agent, securing commissions from principally British travellers in an arrangement that would make both artist’s and agent’s fortunes, though perhaps favouring the latter more than the former seeing as Canaletto was never truly wealthy and died with just a single room apartment, 283 ducats and a small property he had bought as an investment in 1751. However, Smith was undoubtedly the catalyst to Canaletto’s rapid rise to fame in the 1720s and early 1730s, arranging the largest commissions of the artist’s fledgling career: twenty-four canvases (two of large format and twenty-two of small format) for the 4th Duke of Bedford in 1731/2; twenty canvases of small format for 3rd Duke of Marlborough a few years later; and in 1738 five canvases of large format for the 4th Earl of Carlisle. Most of the Bedford and Marlborough canvasses were on Canaletto’s smaller format, precisely the same dimensions as the present pair and many, including the more latterly executed of the Marlborough set and the entirety of the Carlisle set, employ the cooler tonality that characterise the present works.
These paintings thus belong to the finest period of Canaletto’s production and date from a time described by Charles Beddington as “the apex of the history of Venetian view painting.” For though Canaletto had enjoyed a serene and unrivalled journey to the top of his field through the early to mid-1730s, his success would, by the end of the decade, precipitate the emergence of several challengers and rivalries.
Aside from his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto found competition in a variety of younger artists, including Antonio Joli, Giovanni Battista Cimaroli and, most closely, Michele Marieschi (b. 1710). Marieschi brought to Venetian view painting a quicker, livelier technique that directly challenged the perfect precision of Canaletto. He also provided paintings for half the price Canaletto did. In 1736 Canaletto had just completed the latest and finest of the to-date ten commissions from Marshal Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, a two metre wide panorama of the Bacino from the Riva degli Schiavone for which he charged his patron 120 zecchini.18 Early the following year, on 20th April, Marieschi charged Schulenburg less than half that, 55 zecchini, for a canvas of the same size representing The Grand Canal with the Rialto Bridge from the north and the arrival of the new Patriarch Antonio Correr (fig. 6), and would receive commissions for a further eleven canvasses from the Austrian count. Canaletto, on the other hand, would receive no more.19 It was indeed to Canaletto’s profound benefit that Marieschi died prematurely at the age of just thirty-three a few years later in January 1743.
While the earliest provenance of this paintings is not known, the 1754 posthumous sale of Dr. Richard Mead included a pair of Canalettos described as ‘A view of St. Mark’s, Venice, and one of the Grand Canal.’ Mead’s collection included two further Canalettos, one of Henry VII’s tomb at Westminster Abbey and the other of St. James’ Park, that remained with his daughter after his death. Constable lists a handful of views of St. Marks that are paired with a view of the Grand Canal and, on the grounds of provenance or attribution, it is possible to plausibly eliminate all but the present pair and those formally with Leger Galleries (Constable nos. 16 and 228) as possible candidates for the pictures sold by Mead.20
John Furnell Tuffen was a self-made businessman from Bristol who put together a small but very fine collection of paintings by European masters, though mainly Dutch. Amongst his collection, for example, was David Teniers the Younger’s sublime Self-portrait of the artist with his family on a terrace (fig. 7).21 The Canalettos stand out for being both Italian and 18th century but in their fine detail they have much in common with the Dutch masters and, of course, with the itinerant Dutch landscapist Gaspar Van Wittel, called Vanvitelli, an example of whose work was included in Tuffen’s 1818 sale as the lot following the two Canalettos. Tuffen was born in 1752, the son of the unremarkable John and Katherine Tuffen of Marlborough. He became the greatest of friends with James Watt, the great Scottish inventor and according to his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine he travelled widely on the continent in early life “and associated with the best circles, his manners were highly polished which, with the extent and accuracy of his knowledge, gave to his conversation a charm that his friends will long feel the loss of.”
At his 1818 sale at Christie’s the view of St. Marks was bought by ‘Beauchamp’ and Rialto by ‘Park’, the latter presumably on behalf of William Lygon, 2nd Earl Beauchamp (1782-1823) in whose collection the pair would find their next home. They remained in the collection of the Earls of Beauchamp at Madresfield Court and, more latterly, at Halkyn House in Belgravia, until the death of the 7th Earl (fig. 8) in 1938 at which point Martin Asscher of Asscher and Welker, London, was appointed to sell them, which he so did on 18th May 1939, to an English financier called Arthur Bisgood who, like Tuffen, amassed a fine collection of Dutch works around his Canalettos. The paintings were sold by a charitable trust, set up by his daughter, at Sotheby’s in 1997.
1. See, respectively, L. Germeau (ed.), Canaletto- Guardi. Les deux maîtres de Venise, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2012, pp. 102-3, reproduced; W. G. Constable, Canaletto, vol. I, Oxford 1976, reproduced plate 199, vol. II, p. 296, no. 228(a)4; and J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Pictures, vol. I, London 1985, p. 239, no. P511, reproduced p. 238.
2. See L. Germeau (ed.), op. cit., pp. 100-101, no. 16, reproduced.
3. Sold New York, Christie’s, 15 May 1996, lot 135. J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto, London 1998, pp. 23-4, reproduced plate 235.
4. See B.A. Kowalczyk, Canaletto e Bellotto. L’arte della veduta, exhibition catalogue, Turin 2008, pp. 68-9, no. 7, reproduced.
5. In a private collection, U.S.A. and previously sold New York, Sotheby’s, 17 January 1986, lot 125 (as Canaletto). We are grateful to Charles Beddington for bringing this to our attention.
6. See C. Beddington, Venice. Canaletto and his Rivals, exhibition catalogue, London 2010, p. 64, no. 5, reproduced.
7. Ibid., p. 75, no. 10, reproduced.
8. Constable, op. cit., vol. I, reproduced plate 11, vol. II, p. 188, no. 2.
9. Ibid., vol. I, reproduced plate 186, vol. II, pp. 188-9, no. 4.
10. Ibid., vol. I, reproduced plate 12, vol. II, pp. 187-8, no. 7.
11. E.P. Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA 1990, p. 56, color plate; pp. 101, 357, cat. no. 772, reproduced and colour plate p. 56.
12. Ibid., vol. I, reproduced plate 186, vol. II, pp. 192-3, no. 16.
13. The former published in Ibid., vol. I, reproduced plate 12, vol. II, p. 190, no. 8. The latter in J.G. Links, op. cit., p. 5, no. 8*, reproduced plates 277 & 278.
14. Sold New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2006, lot 65. See Constable, op. cit., vol. II, under cat. no. 3, and J.G. Links, op. cit. p. 5.
15. Beddington, op. cit., p. 88, no. 22, reproduced.
16. Madrid, Museo del Prado.
17. See, for example, the View of St. Mark’s looking South and West in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford: Beddington, op. cit., p. 81, no. 15, reproduced.
18. Ibid., p. 85, no. 19, reproduced.
19. Ibid., p. 34, reproduced fig. 25.
20. Other than the present pair those that might be candidates are Constable nos. 5 (pendant to 201), 6 (228(a)1, 16 (228), 43 (167) and 53 (180). Nos. 5 and 53 are in fact by Bellotto, there is no evidence of no. 6 having ever been in England (now Jacquemart-André, Paris), and no. 43 is really a view of the clock tower and is unlikely to have been described as ‘A view of St. Mark’’.
21. The Teniers was sold London, Sotheby’s, 9 July 2008, lot 23.