- Venice, a view of the Grand Canal looking north from near the Rialto Bridge, with the Fabbriche Nuove on the left
- oil on canvas
With Knoedler, London;
Harold Sidney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere (1868–1940), Warwick House, St James’s, London;
By whose Executors sold, London, Christie’s, 19 December 1941, lot 56, reproduced opposite p. 9 (as Antonio Canaletto), for £1,155, to Tooth;
With Arthur Tooth and Son, until 1944, when acquired by
J.V. Rank, London;
By whose widow sold to a private collector;
By descent to his son;
By whom offered (‘The Property of a Gentleman’), London, Sotheby’s, 9 December 1992, lot 79, sold after the sale (as Canaletto);
With Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Newhouse Galleries, New York;
With Lampronti Gallery;
Acquired from the above by the present collector in 2007.
W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, 2 vols, Oxford 1962, vol. II, p. 282, no. 233(b) (as probably by Canaletto);
S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London 1972, vol. II, p. 439, no. Z206 (under ‘Works attributed to Bellotto’, as a good example of the work of Canaletto’s studio in about 1740);
E. Camesasca, L’opera completa del Bellotto, Milan 1974, page 118, no. 262 C (under ‘Other works attributed to Bellotto’);
W.G. Constable, rev. ed. J.G. Links, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, 2 vols, Oxford 1976, vol. II, pp. 299–300, no. 233(b) (as probably by Canaletto);
W.G. Constable, rev. ed. J.G. Links, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, 2nd ed. reissued with supplement and additional plates, 2 vols, Oxford 1989, vol. II, pp. 299–300, no. 233(b) (as probably by Canaletto);
J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, London 1998, p. 24, no. 233(b) (as Canaletto).
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."
Painted when Bellotto was aged just sixteen or seventeen, this archetypal view of Venice’s principal artery constitutes a major milestone in our understanding of his working methods while a pupil and assistant in Canaletto’s studio during the 1730s and clarifies the picture we have of his formative years in Venice. Bellotto was only sixteen when in 1738 he was enrolled in the Venetian painters’ guild. As an apprentice in Canaletto’s studio, he learned rapidly, producing his own versions of compositions available to him. His early view paintings adhere to Canaletto’s scenes but differ in their tonality and rendering of architectural detail. Bellotto’s distinct preference for cold light was to affect Canaletto’s own style for a short period from the late 1730s. The huge demand for Canaletto’s work marked a time of fervent activity for Bellotto, signalling also the beginning of his artistic independence. By the middle of the following decade it is likely that Bellotto and his uncle were no longer on such good terms perhaps because of the jealousy felt by Canaletto towards the success achieved by his young nephew, who by 1747 had left the city for good.
Until relatively recently when a number of scholars, including Dario Succi, Bozena Anna Kowalczyk and Charles Beddington, undertook to reassess Bellotto’s output during his beginnings in Venice, much of the early work of this hugely gifted painter remained unrecognised and instead was wrongly attributed either to Canaletto himself or to anonymous assistants in the latter’s studio.1 Stefan Kozakiewicz, author of the 1972 catalogue of Bellotto’s work, included only six views of Venice which he considered could be attributed with certainty to the young Bellotto, concentrating instead on Bellotto’s views of northern European cities and towns where he worked after leaving Italy.2 W.G. Constable’s catalogue of the works of Canaletto, first published in 1962 and subsequently revised and updated and still the best resource for Canaletto studies, also failed to address the question of Bellotto’s early work in Canaletto’s studio.3
The present work shows in resplendent detail the thriving commercial centre of Venice north of the Rialto Bridge. The scope of the vista is demarcated at the left by the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto and by the campanile of SS. Apostoli, just visible at the right margin. At the far left the view captures a sunlit corner of the Vegetable Market – the Erberia – with the campanile of S. Giovanni Elemosinario visible behind the roofs of the Fabbriche Nuove. Further along the Grand Canal, where it turns, the opulent mass of Palazzo Pesaro is recognizable as the most distant palace visible on the far left, while the building to its left is the Palazzo Corner della Regina, begun in 1724. On the near bank, beyond the foreground corner of the fondamenta, is the Ca’ da Mosto, which was at this time a famous hotel, the Albergo del Leon Bianco. Further along the canal, palaces include the Ca’ d’Oro, and near the end of the vista is the Palazzo Grimani, better known as the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, where Richard Wagner died in 1883.
With its harmonious range of blues, beiges and soft greys, offset with emphatic areas of black, Bellotto’s view of The Grand Canal achieves a perfect balance between the fabric of the city, the water and the sky. The contrasts of light and shade are typical of Bellotto, so too the thickly applied paint that gives the painting its richly textured surface. Once Bellotto had established the principal lines of the composition with incisions – for instance to mark the stories and corner of the Fabbriche Nuove, the large colonnaded building on the left of the composition – his transcription of the buildings into paint is fluidly done.4 Vertical lines incised into the paint are most clearly visible near the roofline and in the reflections, their purpose to mark out the extent of façades, the relative depths of adjacent buildings and rhythms of fenestration. They serve to guide the fine black lines that determine rooflines, chimney heights, scaffolding, porticos, window sequences, sills, and so on. Such lines emphasize crisp architectural details without resulting in an overly mechanical appearance.
The incised verticals serve as guidelines but also catch the light and extend into the water to guide the reflections, enlivening the picture surface. This is particularly effective in the areas of water, which is given a translucent appearance thanks to the complex layering of light tones that throw the dark shapes of the boats into relief, and in the rich play of reflections. These column-like forms are executed in short horizontal strokes densely interwoven across the expanse of water. Bellotto animates its surface by overlaying these tones with his characteristic joined-up ‘W’s to render the ripples. Lastly, an important distinguishing feature of this painting, typical of Bellotto’s early style, is the execution of the sky in diagonal strokes descending towards the left. Painted over this are clouds formed of creamy impastoed paint that give the composition its distinctive airy character. The very good state of preservation of The Grand Canal, looking north lends it a singular painterly richness.
In a private collection and inaccessible to scholars, this painting was not published until 1962, and even then its proper assessment was hampered by lack of first-hand knowledge of the work. A photograph and note in Knoedler’s files ascribed the painting to Bellotto. Constable however, on the basis of photographs, included it in his catalogue of Canaletto as probably by Canaletto. In 1972, Kozakiewicz, rejecting Constable’s assessment, listed the painting in a sub-section of his book entitled ‘Works attributed to Bellotto’, where it appears among a small number of works that Kozakiewicz did in fact link to Bellotto. He perceptively identified elements of the brushwork as reminiscent of Bellotto and suggested it may be a good example of the work of Canaletto’s studio in about 1740. Constable remained of the view that this painting was probably by Canaletto and connected it to a celebrated veduta in the Royal Collection discussed below, albeit that the present painting departs from the latter in a number of ways, most significantly in the lighting, which is from the right, and not from the left.
A better understanding of Bellotto’s Venetian views was hampered by the publication in 1998 of J.G. Links’ updated edition to Constable’s catalogue. Links was notoriously hesitant about attributing Venetian views to Bellotto, not believing the young artist capable of such subtlety of composition.5 Even though by that date Knox had published the set of four Canalettos owned by the Duke of Bolton, which included the prototype for Bellotto’s view, Links continued to uphold Constable’s view, affirming Canaletto’s authorship in his listing of the present work.6 In modern scholarship Succi, Kowalczyk and Beddington have done much to restore Venetian vedute to their rightful place in Bellotto’s œuvre. Today, over sixty paintings that Constable attributed to Canaletto or to his studio are now firmly attributed to Bellotto.
The painting by Canaletto that is compositionally closest to Bellotto’s view of The Grand Canal, looking north from near the Rialto Bridge is a picture that formed part of a set of four views acquired by Charles Paulet, 3rd Duke of Bolton (1685–1754), now in a private collection (fig. 1).7 Other paintings by Bellotto that depict the same views as the Bolton set are known: the counterpart to this view – The Grand Canal, looking south from Ca’ da Mosto to the Rialto Bridge – a picture once in the collection of Henry Oppenheimer in London and more recently in a private collection in the United States, dated by Beddington to about 1738; and A view of the Molo, looking west in a private collection (fig. 3).8
Bellotto’s version conforms to Canaletto’s painting in size – it is only slightly taller – and in details of localised colour, for example the figures’ clothing and the fabrics hanging from windows. Yet it is in the handling that Bellotto’s work is markedly different, even at this early stage in his career. Bellotto would have had direct access to Canaletto’s set – indeed as Beddington has pointed out in relation to the companion picture, The Grand Canal, looking south, presumably Canaletto painted the works before Bellotto’s eyes in about 1737. The challenge of responding to Canaletto’s View of the Grand Canal, looking north was one that the young Bellotto proved admirably well-equipped to meet.
The parallels between Bellotto’s and Canaletto’s pictures are certainly striking, revealing much about the approach of the two painters. Many small details, such as the inclusion here in the lower right foreground of a small dog descending a flight of steps that leads down to the moorings, correspond with elements in the Duke of Bolton’s picture. The differences are to be found less in anecdotal minutiae than in the general mood of the scene. In this painting more space is given to the sky, which in its animated brushwork shows Bellotto’s characteristic free handling of paint. The overall effect is livelier than Canaletto’s example. In his use of perspective Bellotto is less the pedantic grammarian. With its slight irregularities, Bellotto’s handling of perspective serves him as a tool to convey local atmosphere. Figures loom larger than in the older artist’s work, whose scene is peopled by figures captured in shorthand. Bellotto elongates elements of the composition such as chimneys and scaffolding. A distinct feature of Bellotto’s approach is his use of heavier strokes of the brush and thicker application of paint. Most striking of all is the freer handling of water and sky and the brighter palette of the painting overall, especially in the tonality of the buildings that contrast markedly with the pinkish wall colours of Canaletto’s version.
Bellotto’s uncle revisited this classic Venetian scene at different moments in his career. The earliest instance is the magnificent veduta commissioned in 1725 by Stefano Conti, and now in a private collection.9 A later rendition of the view is Canaletto’s celebrated painting in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen, a composition which exists in a number of variants.10 Canaletto’s painting in the Royal Collection was done possibly as early as 1729–30 and certainly before 1735, for the greatest collector of Venetian painting in his day and the patron and agent of Canaletto, Joseph Smith, later Consul Smith.11 Engraved by Antonio Visentini, Canaletto’s veduta was published by Smith in the Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum in 1742.12 Given the longstanding business relationship between Canaletto and Smith, Bellotto must have had ready access to pictures in Smith’s palazzo during his formative years in Canaletto’s studio, and no doubt would have been able to see Canaletto’s picture at that time. The painting, part of a set, was later sold en bloc to George III and is now housed at Windsor Castle. It may have been the success of this composition that led Canaletto and Bellotto to revisit the scene in different lighting conditions and to produce the painting for the Duke of Bolton and the present work. Indeed, the increased demand for views by Canaletto may have prompted the older artist to encourage Bellotto to make versions of his compositions.
The most significant change in Canaletto's later treatment of the scene is to the lighting, which is from the right, as in Bellotto's painting, whereas in the Windsor picture and in numerous derivations it is from the left. The present view therefore shows the Grand Canal in the morning sunlight. The inclusion of barges and gondolas navigating the Canal, and the lively bustle of the scene, indicates it is morning and distinguishes this painting from other vedute. One other difference concerns the foreground at the lower right. Here Bellotto, and Canaletto before him, depicted at the forefront of the composition not a walled courtyard but the fondamenta, where the rather prominently placed figure of a gentleman stands facing out at the viewer. A drawing in pen and brown ink attributed to Canaletto and formerly in the collection of Dr Carlo Croce shows the same view with the motif of the bank beside the canal faithfully drawn and inscribed by the artist at the lower right: ‘Fondamenta’ (fig. 2).13 Although the lighting differs, Bellotto may have made use of the drawing in Canaletto’s studio.
Considered by Links to be preparatory for Conti’s painting of 1725, the drawing has elements that bear comparison with the present composition. In the foreground the absence of the perimeter wall present in the Conti painting is a feature that recurs in Bellotto’s painting and in the Duke of Bolton’s view, where the fondamenta is translated into a vivid depiction of brightly lit flagstones cast into deep shadow by the roofline of the adjacent palazzo. This may reflect a change to the architecture in the 1730s. Of interest too in relation to the dating of these works is the opinion expressed by Constable, who although unaware of the existence of the Bolton painting and believing The Grand Canal, looking north to be probably by Canaletto on the basis of a photograph, described it as calligraphic in handling, which suggested to him that it should be dated later than the Windsor picture. Albeit that he failed to recognise this as a work by Bellotto, his assessment of it as later than the Windsor picture lends further support to a dating in the second half of the 1730s for this and for Canaletto’s painting.
It is significant that this is by no means the only instance of an adaptation by Bellotto of a composition by Canaletto. Other paintings in Smith’s collection were also copied by Bellotto in his early years, among them for instance his View of the Grand Canal, looking south-west from the Rialto Bridge to the Palazzo Foscari, a picture with a distinguished English provenance, which sold at auction in 2012 (fig. 4).14 Other examples include a Regatta on the Grand Canal (present whereabouts unknown) and a View of the Grand Canal at the entrance to Cannaregio (private collection, United States of America).15 Mention should also be made of Bellotto’s most prestigious commission at this point in his career: the group of paintings for Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle (1694–1758). The presence of Lord Carlisle in Venice between 1738 and 1739 was of great importance to the young artist, for his is perhaps the single largest body of early work to have been purchased by a single patron.16 Masterpieces by Bellotto commissioned by Lord Carlisle for Castle Howard and based closely on paintings by his uncle include the Campo Santo Stefano, for which a preliminary drawing also exists;17 a View of the Libreria and the Piazzetta;18 and a View of the Grand Canal, looking south from the Palazzo Foscari and Palazzo Moro-Lin towards the church of Santa Maria della Carità.19 While these works show the extent of the young Bellotto’s formal dependence on his uncle’s designs, they also assert his stylistic independence. One of the greatest view painters of the eighteenth century, Bellotto shows himself with his work in Venice not only to have been an exceptionally precocious artist but also one whose paintings display many of the qualities of his mature style. As Beddington has said, Bellotto’s distinct artistic personality is clearly discernible from the start.
We are very grateful to both Charles Beddington and Bozena Anna Kowalczyk for independently identifying this painting as the work of Bernardo Bellotto.
Note on the Provenance
The painting’s first recorded owner was Walter Murray Guthrie (1869–1911), a merchant banker and politician, who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1899 to 1906. In 1897 he inherited from an uncle a mid-nineteenth-century castle built in Scottish Baronial style on the Isle of Mull, just off the west coast of Scotland. Originally known as Duart House it was later called Torosay Castle. It is unclear when Guthrie acquired the painting but it may be that he bought it when making improvements to the castle; nor is it known how it was dispersed from Guthrie’s collection but one possibility is that it was sold by Olive, his widow, who as chair of the family bank lost much of her fortune following a series of financial setbacks. By 1932 Bellotto’s painting was in the possession of one of the most successful newspaper magnates of the early twentieth century, Harold Sidney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere (1868–1940). That year a privately published catalogue of Lord Rothermere’s pictures was compiled by Tancred Borenius, the Finnish art historian, authority on Rembrandt, close friend of Roger Fry and a leading expert on Italian art. It is likely that he and P.G. Konody, the volume’s editor, helped to advise Lord Rothermere, who succeeded in assembling a notable collection over a relatively short time. The posthumous sale at Christie’s of Rothermere’s collection, which took place on 19 December 1941, comprised some 80 paintings, both modern and old masters, as well as works on paper. The Grand Canal, looking north, sold as a work by Canaletto, was one of very few pictures singled out in the catalogue with an illustration. Particularly strong on Venetian painting, the 1941 sale also included a veduta ascribed to Bellotto of the Church of SS Giovanni e Paolo and no less than fourteen oils by Guardi.
1. See D. Succi, in I. Reale and D. Succi (eds), Luca Carlevarijs e la veduta veneziana del Settecento, exh. cat. Palazzo della Ragione, Padua, 1994, pp. 51–58; articles by B.A. Kowalczyk in Arte Veneta, 47, 1995, pp. 68–77; 48, 1996, pp. 70–89; 53, 1999, pp. 72–99; and Saggi e memorie di storia dell’arte, 23, 1999, pp. 191–218; and C. Beddington, ‘Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy. Part I: not Canaletto but Bellotto’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, October 2004, pp. 665–74.
2. S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London 1972.
3. W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, Oxford 1962; rev. ed. J.G. Links, Oxford 1976; and 2nd ed. J.G. Links, reissued with supplement and additional plates, Oxford 1989.
4. Another glimpse of Bellotto’s methods is offered by the arch on the side of the façade, which is marked out with a curved incision clearly visible to the naked eye.
5. J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, London 1998.
6. Links 1998, p. 24, no. 233(b).
7. Oil on canvas, 53 x 93 cm.; 20 7/8 x 36 5/8. First published by Knox, together with three other paintings also owned by the Duke of Bolton, the set later entered the collection of the Clarke-Jervoise family; see G. Knox, ‘Four Canaletti for the Duke of Bolton and two aide-mémoire’, Apollo, October 1993, vol. CXXXVIII, no. 380, pp. 245–49, reproduced in black and white on p. 248, fig. 3.
8. The former: 59 x 91 cm., reproduced in colour in Beddington 2004, p. 666; the latter: 61.2 x 97.8 cm., sold New York, Sotheby's ('Property from the Estate of Giancarlo Baroni'), 29 January 2013, lot 30, reproduced in colour. Bellotto also produced his own version of The Bacino di S. Marco, looking east towards S. Giorgio Maggiore painted by Canaletto for Bolton; 61.5 x 96.5 cm.; Constable 1962, no. 135 (whereabouts unknown).
9. Oil on canvas, 89.5 x 131.4 cm. Constable and Links 1989, vol. II, no. 230, reproduced vol. I, pl. 48.
10. For the Royal Collection painting, see Constable and Links 1989, vol. II, no. 233, reproduced vol. I, pl. 48 (47.5 x 78 cm.). For other variants that lack the enclosing wall see Constable and Links 1989, vol. II, no. 233 (c) H.J. Joel collection, London, 69 x 94 cm. (as attributed to Canaletto, possibly with the collaboration of Bellotto, according to Constable and as by another member of the studio, according to Kozakiewitz; Kozakiewitz 1972, Z205); 233(d) Alessandro Poss collection, Novara, 58 x 92 cm. (as Canaletto although mechanical in quality, according to Constable); 233(e) Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, 72 x 128 cm. (Canaletto studio, according to Constable and Kozakiewitz; Kozakiewitz 1972, Z204). Kozakiewitz lists one other canvas in the collection of D.H. Farr, New York (72.7 x 127.6 cm.), closely comparable in composition and size to 233(e), as more like Canaletto than Bellotto and probably a work of the studio; see Kozakiewitz 1972, Z207, reproduced on p. 436. The latter two are both lit from the right.
11. 47.5 x 78 cm; Constable and Links 1989, vol. II, p. 299, cat. no. 233, reproduced vol. I, plate 48.
12. A. Visentini, Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum, Pars Tertia, VIII in 1742 and 1751 eds; no. 36 in 1833 ed.
13. 17.7 x 30.1 cm.; Links 1998, no. 592*, pl. 239; reproduced in Canaletto, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1989–90, no. 87.
14. 60 x 91.5 cm.; Sotheby's, London, 5 December 2012, lot 47, for £2,900,000.
15. C. Beddington, ‘Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy. Part I: not Canaletto but Bellotto’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, October 2004, p. 671, reproduced figs 19 and 22.
16. For a discussion of Bellotto’s work for the 4th Earl of Carlisle, see D. Succi, ‘Bernardo Bellotto nell'atelier di Canaletto e la sua produzione giovanile a Castle Howard nello Yorkshire’, in Bernardo Bellotto detto il Canaletto, Mirano, Barchessa di Villa Morosini, 23 October – 19 December 1999.
17. B. A. Kowalczyk, in Bernardo Bellotto 1722–1780, Venice, Museo Correr, 10 February – 27 June 2001; and Bernardo Bellotto and the Capitals of Europe, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 29 July – 21 October 2001, pp. 50–52, no. 3, reproduced in colour p. 51 and p. 53 (detail); drawing reproduced on p. 50.
18. Venice and Houston 2001, pp. 54–55, cat. no. 4, reproduced in colour.
19. 59.7 x 89.5 cm.; sold Sotheby’s, London, 8 July 2015, lot 21, for £2,150,000.