This painting was clearly accepted by J.G. Links as the work of Canaletto. He published it in the ‘Supplementary Index’ at the end of his 1989 edition of
W.G. Constable’s catalogue of the artist’s work, and selected it for illustration in the sixth edition of his popular Venetian guidebook Venice for Pleasure. That was published posthumously in 1998, and it was clearly due to an oversight that the description from the 1989 ‘Supplementary Index’ was not repeated in his Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, also published posthumously in the same year. It is surely due to this omission, and its inaccessibility in the Taubman Collection for more than thirty years, that the painting has evaded scholarly discussion.
The last fifteen years have seen dramatic advances in our knowledge of the early, Venetian, period of Canaletto’s nephew Bernardo Bellotto and a consequent expansion of his œuvre (see, for instance, C. Beddington, ‘Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy, Part I: Not Canaletto but Bellotto’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, No. 1219, October 2004, pp. 665-74, and B.A. Kowalczyk, Catalogue of the exhibition Canaletto e Bellotto: L’arte della veduta, Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin, 2008). In the light of these, the painting can be seen as characteristic of the re-workings of Canaletto’s compositions which were produced by his no less talented, and indeed extraordinarily precocious, nephew Bernardo Bellotto, during the years of his formation in his uncle’s studio.
In composition the painting is closest to Canaletto’s version in the Royal Collection, which is datable to around 1729, and it is, indeed, in many respects based upon it (Constable, op. cit., I, pl. 39; II, no. 184). That painting remained in Venice in the home of its first owner, Joseph Smith, later British Consul, until 1762. The entirely different colouring of the clothing here strongly suggests, however, that the source was the engraving after the Royal Collection version by Antonio Visentini, plate IV of the first edition of his celebrated set of prints after Canaletto, the Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum published in 1735 (fig. 1).
This painting is far from a slavish copy. The large sailing boat which dominates the central section of Canaletto’s composition is here omitted; consequently the central gondola is moved higher up the picture plane, and is accompanied by a sandalo seen from the stern in sharp foreshortening. The sandalo to the immediate left of those replaces an entirely different one heading in the opposite direction in Canaletto’s painting. The cloud formations vary considerably. Here the figure types are entirely different, and a gentleman in a cape and tricorn shown in profile at lower right replaces a much more humble figure facing away from the viewer in Canaletto’s painting. The sailing boats next to the Dogana are different, and here there is a large ship moored in the Bacino di San Marco. The very distinctive areas on the wall of the Palazzo Barbarigo on the right where the stucco has decayed to reveal the brickwork below, and the staining of the stucco where rainwater has dripped lower down this wall and below the chimneys of the Palazzo Correr to the left are freshly introduced and exquisitely observed details. Such ‘improvements’ are characteristic of the young Bellotto’s versions of his uncle’s works.
As is almost invariably the case, Bellotto’s version is significantly larger than the prototype, which measures 18 ½ x 31 ⅛ in. Also characteristic of Bellotto’s style rather than his uncle’s are the application of the sky in diagonal strokes from upper right to lower left, the formula for the ripples in the water, and the widespread use of incising to establish the main lines of buildings and to run straight down for the reflections thereof. This last is not as evident as it is often in Bellotto’s work of this period due to the unusually good condition of this painting. The reflections themselves are executed in small horizontal strokes. The colouring is distinctive, with a copious use of black and a fairly cold light. The pale blue of the shirt of the man in the sailing boat on the left and the mauve of the shirt of the man seated on the steps on the right are characteristic Bellotto colours. The faces of the figures have tiny pink dots for noses and black dots for eyes and mouths. The young painter’s able hand is already able to render the contrasting textures of stucco, stone and sailcloth, and roof tiles are covered in tan dotting throughout.
Bellotto aimed, during his formative years, to cover all of his uncle’s more successful compositions, and it is perhaps surprising that this is the only painting of the subject by him known to survive. One other version is, however, recorded, that painted for Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, who was in Venice on the Grand Tour from November 1738 for several months, for Castle Howard, where it was destroyed by fire in 1940 (fig. 2). Slightly smaller than this painting, it measured approximately 23 ¼ x 35 ¼ in. and its appearance is known from a photograph of the wall on which it hung in the ‘Canaletto Room’ at Castle Howard (see, for instance, D. Succi, Catalogue of the exhibition Bernardo Bellotto detto il Canaletto, Barchessa di Villa Morosini, Mirano, 1999, p. 53, fig. 34). From that it appears to follow Visentini’s engraving quite closely, although with a quay shown on the near side of the Campo di San Vio at bottom right, and with some variation in the cloud patterns. That painting may be presumed to have dated from 1739. In this painting traces of youthful uncertainty are confined to a hesitancy in the drawing of domes, and a residual tendency for boats to sit on rather than in water. Its confident handling and its extensive subtle deviations from the prototype suggest that it dates from a couple of years later, when Bellotto was already around twenty years old.
Sotheby’s would like to thank Charles Beddington for writing the catalogue essay for the present lot.
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