PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
The present sheet belongs to a group of similar figure drawings executed in the same media, all numbered in pen and brown ink in the centre, and probably once part of an album or albums. The varying sizes of the sheets suggest that they may originate from more than one album, although stylistically these drawings would appear to be similar in date. Several of the drawings are double-sided, and bear, in a handwriting universally accepted as Canaletto’s, the word ‘volta’ ('turn over'). They represent scenes from everyday life, probably sketched dal vivo, and were surely made to be used by the artist as the basis for the staffage in his paintings. Five of these double-sided sheets are recorded by Constable and Links (two of them in Berlin and one each in Rotterdam, London and New York).2
Following a suggestion originally made by Larissa Salmina Haskell, in 1973 Terisio Pignatti speculated that one of these sheets in a private collection, Cloth Merchant, bearing numbering 49, might actually be the work of Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto's nephew, drawn when the artist was training in his uncle's studio.3 Other scholars, notably Charles Beddington and Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, have followed this lead, and consider all the figure drawings in this group, including the present example, to be the work of Bellotto.4 Another important drawing to take into account in this context is the double-sided sheet sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 2000 and now at the Getty Museum, of which only the recto, a view of The Campo S. Basso: The North Side with the Church, was known to Constable and Links, who included it in their catalogue as an autograph work by Canaletto.5 The drawing was, however, taken off its mount at some stage between 1989 and 2000, revealing another drawing on the verso, representing a market scene, clearly by the same hand as the present sheet and others in the group discussed above, also numbered 58 and inscribed 'volta' in Canaletto’s hand. In any case, these studies must date from the first half of the 1740s, when the young Bellotto was in the bottega of Canaletto, and the work of the two artists was very close in style and technique.
The present sheet is fluidly drawn in pen and ink, over a black chalk underdrawing, and shows a number of pentimenti. It is very competent in execution, and the inventive and witty representation of the subject is easy to associate with Canaletto (see, for example, his approach to the masked figures in the great drawing of The Coronation of the Doge, lot 44 above). It seems curious that if all these sheets are indeed by Bellotto, we would have no record of similar drawings by Canaletto, who should have provided his very young nephew with the inspiration for such interesting works.
1. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. E 3793-1934; Constable & Links, op. cit., 1976, vol. I, no. 646, reproduced vol. II, pl. 118
2. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, inv. nos. 572 & KdZ 16079, C/L nos. 540 and 837; Rotterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, inv. no. I. 326, C/L no. 838; London, Courtauld Institute, inv. no. R.W. 346, C/L no. 839; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no. 1971 (162), C/L no. 840
3. Pignatti, loc. cit.; the drawing later published by Constable and Links, op. cit., 1976, as no. 840***
4. C. Beddington, 'Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy, part I, Not Canaletto but Bellotto,’ The Burlington Magazine,CXLVI, October 2004, p. 671; B.A. Kowalczyk, in Canaletto. Il trionfo della veduta, exh. cat., Rome, Palazzo Giustiniani, 2005, pp. 204-13 nos. 51-54
5. Sale, New York, Sotheby's, 26 January 2000, lot 43; Constable & Links, op. cit., 1976, no. 541
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