Although Venice was a popular destination for artists embarking on Grand Tours, the French Impressionist only made one trip to the city in his lifetime. At the invitation of Mary Young Hunter — whom Alice and Claude Monet met through their mutual friend John Singer Sargent — the Monets traveled to Venice in autumn 1908. There, he made a series of 37 paintings depicting the city’s inimitable views. Among Monet’s paintings, said Helena Newman, Sotheby’s Chairman of Europe and Worldwide Head of Impressionist & Modern Art, “his views of Venice are perhaps the most spellbinding — channeling the magic of the city on canvas.”
Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute (1908) was last exhibited in 1997 at the Kimbell Art Museum. This year, on 27 March, the painting will embark on a global tour of its own, appearing first at Sotheby’s in Taipei from 27–30 March before traveling to Hong Kong from 8–12 April. Later, on 20 April, the painting will return to its home city for a special dinner held at the Gritti Palace in celebration of the Venice Biennale. Finally, it will briefly travel to London from 23–26 April and then New York City, where it will be on public view from 6–16 May before appearing as a star lot in Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction.
Le Grand Canal is expected to achieve around $50 million at auction, in line with a recent series of exceptional sales of masterworks by the renowned Impressionist including Coin du bassin aux nymphéas (1918), which sold in November 2021 for $50.8 million, and Le Bassin aux nymphéas (1917–19), which sold for $70.4 million last May.
Monet’s Venetian canvases are among the artist’s most sought-after and acclaimed. Many are now held by institutional collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Fine Art Museums San Francisco. Le Grand Canal is one of six paintings made on the steps of the Palazzo Barbaro, across the Grand Canal from the Gallerie dell'Accademia. It depicts the church Santa Maria della Salute in vivid brushstrokes.
These works mark a departure from the eighteenth-century vedute tradition of dutifully rendering the city’s lavish and picturesque character. In fact, they mark an evolution in Monet’s own work as well. Referencing paintings of the city by J.M.W. Turner and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Monet abandoned his attempt to chart the changes of light over the course of the day, and instead emphasized what he called the city’s “envelope,” or its atmospheric conditions and famous soft haze.
“This painting stands out as a pivotal work that bridges the artist’s groundbreaking Impressionist innovations and their continued evolution into a more freeform abstract approach.”
“Few artists have captured the popular imagination as strongly as Claude Monet, whose works continue to inspire awe for their beauty and perspective-shifting experimentation,” said Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s Head of Modern Art, Americas. “Bathing the eternal City of Water in sublime light and iridescent pigment, Monet anticipated the lyrical abstractions and daring coloration which would define artistic progress in the second half of the twentieth century.”
Only a few days after Monet returned to Paris, he sold 28 of his 37 Venetian canvases to the Impressionist gallery Bernheim-Jeune, keeping the rest in his studio while he added finishing touches. About three years later, following Alice’s death, the gallery opened the exhibition Claude Monet Venice to critical acclaim.