Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto
- Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto
- Venice, the Piazza San Marco looking east towards the Basilica
- oil on canvas, with an unidentified brushed inventory number 16 on the stretcher
- 58.5 by 92 cm.; 23 by 36 1/4 in.
His sale, London, Christie's, 4 June 1853, lot 67 ('an important work of high quality') for 210 guineas to Farrer;
With Henry Farrer (1798–1866), London;
The Reverend Frederick Leicester (1803–73);
His sale, London, Christie’s, 19 May 1860, lot 155, (‘Canaletti – St Mark’s place looking towards the front of the church and the campanile; with numerous spirited figures. A work of the most brilliant quality’) for £367-10s to Farrer;
With Henry Farrer (1798–1866), London;
Col. the Hon. Edward Douglas Pennant, later 1st Baron Penrhyn of Llandegai (1800–86), Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, North Wales by 1860;
By descent to Hugh Napier Douglas-Pennant (1894–1949), 4th Baron Penrhyn, and subsequently to his niece the late Lady Janet Douglas Pennant (1923–97);
Acquired privately from the Penrhyn collection by the present owner in August 2009.
A. Douglas Pennant, Catalogue of the Pictures at Penrhyn Castle and Mortimer House in 1901, Bangor 1902, no. 76;
W.G. Constable, Canaletto, vol. II, Oxford 1962, p. 188, cat. no. 9 (where incorrectly listed as having been in the Higginson collection at Saltmarshe and unsold London, Christie's, 4–6 June 1846);
L. Puppi, Canaletto, Milan 1968, p. 97, cat. no. 84 D;
A. Corboz, Canaletto, una Venezia immaginaria, vol. II, Milan 1985, p. 626, cat. no P 199, reproduced;
G. Berto, Canaletto, Milan, 1981, no. 84d;
W.G. Constable, Canaletto, revised by J.G. Links, Oxford 1989, vol. II, p. 190, cat. no. 9, reproduced vol. I, plate 186, fig. 9 (where incorrectly listed as having been in the Higginson collection at Saltmarshe and unsold London, Christie's, 4–6 June 1846);
C. Beddington in the catalogue of the exhibition Bernardo Bellotto, Museo Correr, Venice, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2001, p. 78, under no. 11.
The Piazza of San Marco in Venice, with the Basilica di San Marco and the famous Campanile has always been recognised as one of the most famous of all European settings, and has come to occupy a central place in the work of Canaletto, the city’s most famous view painter. The Piazza, trapezoidal in plan and opening outward eastwards towards the Basilica, was the heart of Venice, the centre of its great empire and the place where its citizens and visitors congregated, and where they still do to this day. The viewpoint is from above, from the tower of the church of San Geminiano, since replaced by the Ala Napoleonica of the Palazzo Reale, home now to the Museo Correr. The Basilica itself, in the centre of the picture, was dedicated to the Evangelist Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint. Immediately to the south, to the right and just beyond the great bell tower of the Campanile is the Palazzo Ducale, the residence of the Doge and until the time of Napoleon the seat of Venetian government. The arcades of the Procuratie Vecchie and the Procuratie Nuove (completed in 1532 and 1640 respectively) enclose the square from the north and south. On the left, at the far (eastern) end of the former is the Torre dell’Orologia (clock tower), and beyond that the Merceria, which leads to the Rialto and the commercial centre of the city. The sunlight is bright and clear and the great piazza bustles with life.
The number of variants of this scene that Canaletto painted throughout his career is evidence of the popularity that it enjoyed with eighteenth-century visitors to Venice. The earliest of these, and at over two metres in width, much the largest, is the painting now in the Museo Thyssen in Madrid, generally acknowledged as the masterpiece of Canaletto’s early career (fig. 1).1 The Madrid painting can be dated to around 1723, for it clearly shows the new pavement of the Piazza, with its white geometrical design by Andrea Tirali, being laid, which is documented to that year. Canaletto’s next treatment of the subject from this viewpoint is probably that now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (fig. 2), which is generally thought to date from the late 1720s.2 Here a lighter and more colourful palette is already in evidence. The Penrhyn version is probably next earliest in date, and in both this and the New York canvas Tirali’s pavement is shown as it was completed in 1727, thus providing a terminus ante quem for both pictures. Close behind in date is the canvas among the series of views by Canaletto now at Woburn Abbey, which is documented to circa 1733–36.3 This is possibly preceded by or very close in date to another painting in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass., which has generally been dated to between 1730 and 1735.4 Subsequent versions all probably date from 1740 or later. These include that sold in these Rooms 4 December 2013, lot 39 (fig. 3), which is to be dated to around 1738–39, and that in the Fitzwilliam Collection at Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire, for which an engraving of 1742 provides a terminus post quem.5 Among other later views of the Piazza painted in England, one dating from the early 1750s was offered New York, Christie’s, 12 January 1996, lot 38. Constable records a replica of the present version sold London, Christie’s, 28 June 1974, lot 78.6
Although there has been general agreement in assigning the present canvas to Canaletto’s early period, there does not seem to have been any scholarly unanimity as to an exact date of execution. Puppi, for example, describes it as version of the Woburn canvas, which he dates to 1730–31, when the Duke of Bedford was in Venice. Corboz situates the painting early in what he regarded as Canaletto’s second phase, between 1731 and 1746. Neither Constable nor Links suggest a precise date. Most recently Charles Beddington has kindly suggested a potential dating to around 1730.7 By this date Canaletto had eschewed the use of the dark brown grounds employed in his earlier canvases such as that in Madrid, favouring instead a lighter ground as here. The tonality is cool and clear, notably around the Basilica and the adjoining buildings. The loose and animated handling of the brushwork in the clouds around the Basilica in the present canvas recalls Canaletto’s treatment in the New York painting of the late 1720s. The neatly ruled perspective lines and the closely observed detail are also similar in both pictures. Taken together, these factors would seem to support a dating to around 1730, perhaps just prior to the Fogg and Woburn paintings. Although it is constantly asserted that Canaletto always subordinated topographical accuracy for pictorial concerns, that is not particularly the case in the present canvas. Unlike his later capricci the scene is mostly an accurate transcription of reality; only the omission of one window on the Campanile is an obvious change.
Whether true to life in a purely topgraphical sense or not, there can be little doubt as to how successfully Canaletto conveys the bustle of the Piazza on a typically sunny day. The air is clear, and the sunlight bright and even, with the base of the Campanile, the Procuratie Nuove and part of the square lying in shadow. The crowd in the piazza is warmly dressed with capes and hats, and the cool clear light suggest perhaps a crisp spring day. The theatricality of everyday life is displayed with gusto in this early work: washing lines hang out to dry from the windows and a the market stalls have been put up outside the Basilica. Canaletto never tires of such anecdotal detail. All walks of life are represented in the piazza: figures in capes and three-cornered hats; prominent citizens, some in wigs and others behind masks; paupers and stray dogs. Though dwarfed by their majestic surroundings, unlike the static figures Canaletto painted in his mature years, the small figures in the present work provide the main movement of the scene, bustling around the square with their brightly coloured clothing which provides a counterpoint to the almost misty light enveloping the Basilica and the surrounding buildings.
Little is as yet known about the life of John Christopher Cankrien, the earliest recorded owner of this painting. The catalogue of the sale of his collection in 1853 describes him only as the ‘Late Counsel for the Netherlands at Hull’. His collection – ‘collected with great taste and judgment’ – consisted almost entirely of works of the Dutch and English schools. The highest price at the sale was not the Canaletto, but Landseer’s ‘Intruding puppies’ which he had bought through Edward Merryweather at the Tabley House sale in July 1827, and which fetched 656 guineas. The majority of the Dutch paintings, as well as his collection of drawings of exotic birds, were probably purchased on his regular travels to the Low Countries, but he also owned paintings by or attributed to Stubbs, Hogarth, Gainsborough and Nasmyth. It is not known where Cankrien may have acquired his Canaletto, but this was in all probability in England. It is tempting to associate it with the one of the two views of the Piazza San Marco which were sold from the collection of Marshall Johan Mathias von der Schulenberg's (1661–1774) at Christie's in 1775, for these were of the correct date and size as the present canvas, and their present whereabouts remains unknown. Canaletto had received payment from Schulenberg of thirty-two and thirty zecchini respectively for these prospettive from Schulenebrg on 10 March and 30 April 1731, and his records describe them as both 4 by 6 quadri in size - roughly around 23 to 25 by 36 to 38 inches.8
The Reverend Frederick Leicester, who owned this picture in the mid-19th century, was son of Charles Leicester (c.1767–1815), younger brother of John Fleming Leicester (1762–1827), 1st Baron de Tabley of Tabley House, Cheshire. In 1828 he married his uncle’s widow, Giorgiana-Maria, youngest daughter of Lt. Col. Cottin. Leicester assembled a small but high quality collection of Old Masters, principally of the Dutch and Italian schools; a painting by Jacob van Ruisdael depicting Vessels in a Fresh Breeze, also included in the 1860 sale (lot 153), is now in the National Gallery, London (inv. 2567).
It is likely that the painting was acquired at Leicester’s sale in 1860 for Colonel Edward Douglas-Penant, later 1st Baron Penrhyn (1800–86), who was buying actively at this time, financed by huge profits made in the Welsh slate industry, for Penrhyn Castle, a neo-Norman construction built in the 1820s and '30s for his father, George Dawkins-Pennant. The first Baron assembled one of the most remarkable collections of the nineteenth century which included other works by Canaletto and Bellotto as well as Jan Steen's Burgher of Delft, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and Rembrandt's Portrait of Catherine Hoogsaet. By the time the fourth baron had succeeded to the title, death duties had significantly reduced the estate. After his death in 1949, the title and estate were split and the late Lady Janet Douglas Pennant took over the estate and inherited the pictures.
1. Inv. No. 75. 140.5 by 204.5 cm.; see R. Contini, Seventeenth and Eighteenth century Italian painting in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, London 2002, pp. 256–59, reproduced in colour. See also the catalogue of the exhibition, Canaletto, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 30 October 1989 – 21 January 1990, no. 1.
2. Canvas, 68.6 by 112.4 cm. Exhibited, New York, Metropolitan Museum, Canaletto, 30 October 1989 – 21 January 1990, no. 27.
3. W.G. Constable, op. cit., revised by J.G. Links, 1989, vol. II, no. 4.
4. Ibid., vol. II, pp. 191–92, no. 14, reproduced vol. I, plate 14, fig. 14.5.
5. Ibid., vol. II, pp. 186 and 279, nos 3 and 7 respectively, the latter reproduced vol. I, plate 12. The engraving was made by Visentini for his Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum.
6. Ibid., vol. II, p. 190, under no. 9. Canvas, 31½ by 49½ in., present whereabouts unknown.
7. Private communication, October 2014.
8. The pictures were lots 49 and 50 on the second day's sale, and the catalogue describes them as from 'the best time of the master'. See A. Binion, 'From Schulenberg's Gallery and Records', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXII, no. 806 (May 1970), p. 303.