Lot 70
  • 70

Bernardo Bellotto

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 GBP
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  • Canaletto
  • Venice, Piazza San Marco looking east towards the Basilica
  • oil on canvas


The Rev. Wadham Knatchbull (1794–1876), Prebendary of Wells, Cholderton Lodge, Hampshire, and subsequently Sherborne, Dorset;

By whom anonymously sold, London, Christie's, 24 June 1876, lot 118 (unsold at 210 guineas and sent to Captain Knatchbull at Babington, Bath, presumably Babington House, near Frome, Somerset);

With Edward Speelman, London;

From whom purchased in 1947 by Sir Henry Philip Price, 1st and last Bt. (d. 1963), Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, Sussex;

With Frank Partridge, London;

From whom acquired by Sir Michael Sobell (1892–1993), on 17 May 1962;

His posthumous sale ('The Property of the Sobell Foundation'), London, Christie's, 8 December 1995, lot 74 (as Canaletto);

With Richard Green, London (as Canaletto); 

From whom acquired in 1996 by a private collector, New York;

By whom sold ('Property of a Private Collector, New York'), New York, Sotheby's, 26 January 2006, lot 65 (as Bellotto), for $4,720,000;

Where acquired by the present owner.


W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, 2 vols, Oxford 1962, (and subsequent editions revised by J.G. Links), vol. II, under cat. no. 3 (as Canaletto);

L. Puppi, L'opera completa del Canaletto, Milan 1968, p. 111, cat. no. 243B (as Canaletto);

J.G. Links, Canaletto: The Complete Paintings, London 1981, p. 64, under cat. no. 201 (as Canaletto);

J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768, London 1998, p. 5, cat. no. 5, reproduced plate 242 (as Canaletto);

C. Beddington, ‘Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy. Part I: not Canaletto but Bellotto’, in The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, October 2004, pp. 668, reproduced in colour fig. 17.



The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Bernardo Bellotto. Venice. Piazza San Marco. This painting has an old stretcher with a lining perhaps from the middle of the last century, which seems to have tended to push the curls of impasted brushwork in the clouds down into the canvas. However the painting has clearly remained in exceptionally beautiful condition overall. Scarcely any retouching is visible under ultra violet light, apart from one or two faint shapes rising just above the skyline at the middle of the left edge. The remarkably perfect state throughout is extremely rare, with only the faintest slight thinness in one or two of the most minute details in the façade and finials above the roof of San Marco, and fine preservation of the vivid brushwork of the figures and even of their shadows. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"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."

Catalogue Note

This quintessential view of Venice was painted by all the great view painters of the Serenissima, including Michele Marieschi, Antonio Canaletto and Francesco Guardi. To this majestic group can be added Bernardo Bellotto, to whom this splendid example of the Piazza San Marco was correctly reattributed when it was published by Beddington in 2004. The artist trained in the studio of his uncle, Canaletto, and by the age of sixteen was producing work of such quality that it was indistinguishable from, and indeed often sold as, the work of his celebrated uncle. As is the case for most of Bellotto's early paintings, the design closely follows a work by Canaletto, in this case that formerly in the Bisgood collection.

The sight of the Basilica of San Marco and the Campanile flanked by the Procuratie Vecchie and the Procuratie Nuove from the West end of the Piazza down its central axis has always been one of the quintessential Venetian views, and it is hardly surprising that the many paintings of it by Luca Carlevarijs, Canaletto, Michele Marieschi and Francesco Guardi are often among those artists’ most impressive works. Canaletto’s earliest view of it in the Museo Thyssen, Madrid, datable to circa 1723, as it shows the new pavement of the Piazza designed by Andrea Tirali in the process of being laid, has long been considered one of the great masterpieces of the painter’s first style.1 A version in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is generally dated to the late 1730s, while that in the series at Woburn Abbey is datable from documented payments to circa 1733–36.2 Those were followed by the version in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, datable on stylistic grounds to the late 1730s, and by that at Milton Park, of which an engraving by Antonio Visentini was published in 1742 as the final plate in his Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum.3 A version uniquely signed and dated 1744 was last seen on the London art market in 1972.4 The latest versions, probably painted during Canaletto’s years in England are that once in the collection of the Earl of Durham and that sold at Sotheby’s, London, 3 July 1997, lot 94.5 

This painting is very similar in composition to a version formerly in the Arthur Bisgood Collection which is certainly by Canaletto, and its attribution to the same artist was not questioned at the time of its sale in London in 1995.6 More recent research, however, aided by the re-emergence of the Bisgood painting at Sotheby's, London, 3 December 1997, lot 48, has shown that it deviates stylistically from that in ways which may now be recognised as characteristic of the young Bernardo Bellotto. Bellotto received the finest training of any view painter, from his uncle, Canaletto, then at the height of his career, in whose studio he worked from circa 1735 until circa 1742. His enrolment in the Venetian painters’ guild in 1738, when he was only sixteen years old, testifies to his precocity, and by circa 1740 he could imitate his uncle’s work with such dexterity that we know that even contemporaries found it hard to discern differences. Despite this, the temerity of W.G. Constable and Stefan Kozakiewicz, authors of the standard monographs on Canaletto and Bellotto respectively, in attributing Venetian views to Bellotto has meant that until recently few more than a handful were accepted as his work. That number has now been significantly increased, the new attributions serving to 'confirm that he should be regarded as one of the greatest European view painters of the eighteenth century for his work in Italy alone.'7

Bellotto’s training involved the execution of quite a number of versions of paintings by Canaletto, the majority based, for obvious reasons, on freshly executed works about to be shipped abroad to clients. While it may be presumed that most – if not all – of these were sold as the work of Canaletto, Bellotto’s distinct artistic personality is clearly discernible from the start. The present painting, long – indeed probably always – attributed to Canaletto, was first identified as Bellotto’s work by Beddington, who dates it particularly early, on account of its closer than usual adhesion to the model (although he now feels that his dating of it to circa 1737 may be slightly too early). Even here, however, a comparison with Canaletto’s prototype reveals significant differences, as Beddington has demonstrated. As in many other examples, the canvas chosen by Bellotto is slightly larger than that of the prototype (which measures 46.5 x 77 cm.; 18 1/4  x 30 1/4  in.); Bellotto’s tendency to favour working on a large scale was to become fully apparent by the mid-1740s and is evident throughout his subsequent career. The light is colder than in Canaletto’s painting, giving it a more wintry feel, one of the foremost hallmarks of Bellotto’s style, as is the more pronounced use of black in the outlines. The sky is painted in diagonal strokes descending towards the left, with thin horizontal bands of differing tones in the lowest part, a distinguishing characteristic of Bellotto’s early work, and the clouds, although following Canaletto’s fairly closely in their formations, are scraped and shiny, like drifts of icing sugar, quite different from the older artist’s, which are less fluid and more like soft bunches of cotton wool. While the figures are here more prominent, Bellotto has characteristically ‘improved’ the composition by omitting four dwarf-like children shown in the foreground in Canaletto’s painting. As Beddington has shown, these stylistic traits are closely paralleled in other early works by Bellotto and establish this as the only known painting by him of this important view, particularly surprising in the light of its popularity with his uncle’s clients.

The present painting was formerly accompanied by a view of The Bacino di San Marco, looking east towards San Giorgio Maggiore from the Giudecca Canal, which was lot 75 in the 1995 sale, correctly identified as the work of Bellotto. It connects with a preparatory drawing in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, and has been widely published as Bellotto’s work.8 At the time of the 1995 sale the two paintings were thought not to be true pendants, as this painting was offered at auction on its own in 1876. Now that it has been established as also by Bellotto, there can be little doubt that the two paintings were indeed conceived as pendants, and that the Knatchbull family retained one when they attempted to sell the other in 1876, subsequently reuniting the pair.

Wadham Knatchbull, the first recorded owner of this painting, may well have inherited it from one of his grandfathers, Sir Edward Knatchbull, 7th Bt. (1704–1789) or the Rev. Wadham Knatchbull (1707–1760), who were brothers and whose nephew Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham, 6th Bt., M.P. (1737–1763) is the only member of the family known to have visited Italy on the Grand Tour. He is recorded in Venice in 1758 and 1759 and died without issue at the age of twenty-six.9 It should also be noted that a Knatchbull is recorded in Turin in 1739–40;10 although no further details are known, this date would accord well with the ages of the grandfathers as well as with the date of the painting.

We are grateful to Charles Beddington for providing this catalogue entry.

1. Constable 1962, vol. I, reproduced plate 11 and  vol. II, cat. no. 1; exhibited New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Canaletto, 1989–90, no. 1, reproduced in colour.

2. Constable 1962, vol. I, plate 11 and  vol. II, cat. no. 2; no. 27 in New York 1989–90, reproduced in colour; and Constable 1962, vol. II, cat. no. 4 and reproduced vol. I, plate 186 in the 1976 and 1989 editions.

3. Constable 1962, vol. I, reproduced plate 14 and vol. II, cat. no. 14; Ibid., 1962, vol. I, reproduced plate 12 and vol. II, cat. no. 7.

4. Constable 1976 and 1989 editions, vol. I, reproduced plate 186 and vol. II, cat. no. 16*.

5. Constable 1962, vol. I, reproduced plate 12 and vol. II, cat. no. 8; Links 1998, under Literature, cat. no. 8*, plates 277–78.

6. Constable 1962, vol. II, cat. no. 3.

7. Beddington 2004, p. 674; the article proposes several new attributions and a summary of recent research.

8. B.A. Kowalczyk in the catalogue of the exhibition Splendori del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice 1995, p. 443, under no. 162; B.A. Kowalczyk, ‘Il Bellotto veneziano: 'grande intendimento ricercasi'', in Arte Veneta, 48, 1996, p. 80, fig. 12; D. Succi in the catalogue of the exhibition Bernardo Bellotto detto il Canaletto, Barchessa di Villa Morosini, Mirano 1999, p. 27, reproduced in colour fig. 2; D. Succi in the catalogue of the exhibition Canaletto. Una Venècia Imaginària, Centre de Cultura Contemporània, Barcelona 2001, p. 46, reproduced in colour; D. Succi in the catalogue of the exhibition Canaletto. Una Venecia Imaginaria, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid 2001, p. 66, fig. 3.

9. J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701–1800 compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, New Haven and London 1997, p. 581.

10. Ingamells 1997, p. 581.