Lot 54
  • 54

Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
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  • Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto
  • Venice, the churches of the Redentore and San Giacomo;Venice, the prisons and the Bridge of Sighs, looking Northwest from the balcony
  • a pair, both oil on canvas
  • each: 18 3/8  by 30 1/4  in.; 46.7 by 76.8 cm.


Possibly, acquired by Sir Richard Neave, 1st Bt. (1731-1814), Dagnam Park, Essex, possibly directly from the artist in London in the late 1740s, and by descent there until sold before 1891 (presumably the paintings entered for sale by Sheffield H.M. Neave of 39 Bryanston Square, London, at Christie’s, London, June 27, 1885, lots 25 and 26, the first painting described as of ‘The Doge’s Palace’, but both withdrawn before the sale);
G.A.F. Cavendish Bentinck, M.P., P.C., 3 Grafton Street, London, and Brownsea Island;
His deceased sale, London, Christie’s, 11 July 1891, lots 625 and 626, described as ‘The Church of Santa Maria della Salute’ and ‘The Bridge of Sighs’, sold together for 115 gns to Lesser;
With Lesser, Bond Street, London;
By whom sold to Willson Bros., Pall Mall, London;
By whom sold to Mr. later Sir, George Leon, Bt., 48 Brompton Square, London;
With Savile Gallery, London, 1928;
By whom sold to Mark Oliver;
With Arthur Tooth & Sons, 31 Bruton Street, London;
Private collection, by 1952;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 9 December 1988, lot 40;
With the Walpole Gallery, London, 1989;
Private collection, USA;
With Lampronti Gallery;
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.  


London, Savile Gallery, Canaletto, January 1930, no. 9, (The Redentore);
London, Arthur Tooth and Son, November-December 1952, nos. 2 and 4;
London, Walpole Gallery, Italian Landscapes and Vedute, 14 June - 28 July 1989, nos. 26-27.


K.T. Parker, The Drawings of Antonio Canaletto in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London 1948, p. 35, under no. 34 (The Redentore);
W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768, London 1962 (and subsequent editions revised by J.G. Links), vol. I, reproduced pl. 26 (The Prisons), vol. II, pp. 225 & 347, nos. 84 and 318, and pp. 346-7 & 590 under nos. 317 and 775;
L. Puppi, L’opera completa del Canaletto, Milan 1968, nos. 257, reproduced (The Prisons) and 258;
J.G. Links, Canaletto, The Complete Paintings, London 1981, p. 80, nos. 275, reproduced (The Prisons) and 276;
A. Corboz, Canaletto. Una Venezia immaginaria, Milan 1985, vol. II, p. 662, nos. P 357-358 both reproduced;
C. Crawley in K.T. Parker, The Drawings of Antonio Canaletto in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, with an Appendix to the Catalogue by Charlotte Crawley, Bologna 1990, p. 169, under no. 34 (The Redentore);
J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, London 1998, pp. 9 and 31-32, reproduced (The Redentore), plate 269;
C. Beddington, Canaletto in England, exhibition catalogue, New Haven 2006, p. 169, both reproduced;
Canaletto à Venise, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2012, p. 138, under cat. no. 39.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's:Giovanni Antonio Canal. Canaletto. View of the Redentore, Venice. As with its pair this painting appears immaculate and proves indeed to be as perfectly untouched as it appears. There are a few rare minute retouchings in the sky, which are fairly recent, but there is no trace of recent restoration or disturbance of the well established seemingly quite old varnish. Every detail is perfectly intact and virtually untouched. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.Giovanni Antonio Canal, Canaletto. View of the Prisons. Venice. This pair of views of Venice have been extremely carefully watched over since the eighteenth century when they were brought to Britain, possibly in connection with the Grand Tour. Both are now protected behind but have fairly old linings and old stretchers. In every way they appear to have been preserved intact with extraordinary dedication, while changing hands comparatively often during the last century. The remarkable, virtually untouched condition of these two paintings is striking to the naked eye but also under any technical analysis, for instance under Ultra violet light there is literally just one small retouching in the sky, with another tiny touch near the right edge. The texture of the surface is also entirely unworn, with a varnish dating back perhaps well beyond the end of the last century. This immaculate untouched quality is utterly exceptional. 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

Remarkably preserved and in nearly pristine condition, this impressive pair of canvases demonstrates Canaletto’s inimitable success in capturing the imposing elegance of the architecture that defined 18th-century Venice.  Most likely completed in England in the late 1740s and rendered with the artist’s customary attention to detail, the pair offers waterfront views of two of the most recognizable façades in La Serenissima: the Church of the Redentore and the Prisons of San Marco.  Using a bright and dramatic light, Canaletto illuminates the remarkable grandeur of each building, highlighting their individually intricate yet balanced designs.  Set beneath blue skies, bathed with a crisp atmosphere, and animated with fashionable figures, as well as gondolas and sandalos that glide gently atop the waters of the foregrounds, this pair can be ranked among Canaletto’s most admired masterpieces and are enduring examples of why he has long remained the undisputed leader of the genre of Venetian view painting.Built of Istrian Stone, the church of the Redentore, or officially the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, is arguably Andrea Palladio's (1508-1580) masterpiece and represents the apex of his refined architectural ideas.  It was constructed on the island of the Giudecca in the years 1577-1592 and was commissioned by the Venetian Senate to give thanks to God for the deliverance of the city from the major plague of 1575-1576, which had decimated around one quarter of the city's population and had claimed the lives of many of the city's luminaries, including that of Titian. The Senators vowed to visit the church annually and to this day the Festa del Redentore is celebrated: each year on the third Sunday of July a temporary causeway made from barges is erected across the Giudecca for people to attend Mass. In the Redentore, Palladio combined the three distinct sections of the church into one harmonious whole, all held together by a horizontal cornice.  The Redentore in the present pair is seen slightly left of center from the Canale di Giudecca and is flanked at right by the campanile of the Church of San Giacomo, which was demolished in the 19th century, in front of which appears the stern of a large, moored ship.   

The public prisons of San Marco, also known as the Palazzo delle Prigioni, are among the most prominent buildings on the Venetian Molo.  Around 1580, after a fire had destroyed the original prisons in the Doge’s Palace, Antonio del Ponte, who would later complete the Rialto Bridge in 1588-1590, was chosen to oversee their reconstruction and worked from the original designs of Antonio Palladio’s contemporary, Giovanni Antonio Rusconi.  Del Ponte’s nephew, Antonio Contino, helped oversee the last years of construction and also built the Bridge of Sighs, which connected the prison to the Doge’s Palace, both of which are visible in the present pair. The prisons included quarters for the nocturnal security police, a wing for women, cells for victims of the Inquisition, an infirmary and a chapel.  Completed in 1597 just before Dal Ponte’s death, the prisons were among the earliest purpose-built prisons and remained in use for over three hundred years, until they officially closed in 1919.  

By the late 1720s and early 1730s, Canaletto had established himself as the foremost provider of Venetian vedute to international tourists, many of whom visited the city on their Grand Tours.  His most avid collectors, though, were the British, who steadily commissioned works from him throughout his career, usually through Consul Joseph Smith, who acted as agent.  Smith was undoubtedly the catalyst to Canaletto’s rapid rise to fame and was instrumental in securing the largest commission of the artist’s young career: a series of twenty-four canvases (two of large format and twenty two of small format) for the 4th Duke of Bedford in circa 1733-1736, all of which hang today in Woburn Abbey and constitute one of Canaletto’s finest achievements as painter and topographer (fig. 1).  This series includes Canaletto’s earliest iteration of the view of the church of the Redentore with the Church of San Giacomo (fig. 2).The principal differences that distinguish the view in the present pair from the same view at Woburn Abbey can be found in the  horizon line, the location of the spire at San Giacomo, and the placement of the large moored ship in the foreground.  In moving the stern of the ship to the right of the painting in the present view, Canaletto seemingly creates a more balanced composition.

Although he did not travel frequently throughout his career, Canaletto moved to London in May of 1746, having already established his reputation among the British clientele.  He may have moved as a result, in part, of the War of Austrian Succession in 1740, which discouraged English visitors from undertaking Grand Tours, thereby significantly reducing a large portion of his client base.  While here, Canaletto’s output did include views of the English countryside and of London, but at the same time, he was steadily producing views of Venice to satisfy the insatiable demand for such works among British collectors. He found considerable success in England, and, except for an eight-month return to Venice in 1750-1751, he remained there for nine years.

The present pair of paintings belongs to a group of six works by the artist that are similar in size to the small-format canvases in the celebrated series at Woburn Abbey.  The group includes two other pairs, each of which is anchored by an analogous view of the Churches of the Redentore and San Giacomo, one in which the central axis has been moved slightly right and one in which Canaletto populates the scene with a slightly different staffage and vessels.2   Unlike the present pair, which includes a secular view of the prison, the pendants of the other pairs are both views of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore from the Bacino di San Marco.3  While the other pairs were separated during their lifetime, and today can be found in separate collections, the present pair has remained together since they were possibly acquired by Sir Richard Neave (1731-1814), in whose family they possibly remained until the late 19th century. 

That this group of works is uniform in subject and style suggests that all were likely completed around the same moment.  Over the past few decades, however, very different datings have been proffered.  Corboz proposed an early date of 1731-1746, Links suggested a date of around 1754-1760 after Canaletto returned to Venice from England, and Puppi believed that a completion date of around 1746, just before the artist’s departure for England, was appropriate.4 Most recently, however, Charles Beddington has suggested that the group as a whole probably dates to the late 1740s, during Canaletto’s stay in England, for the use of grey grounds and lighter tonality, as opposed to the Venetian russet grounds, as well as the delicate and translucent handling is consistent with this period of production for the artist.5  

It is thought that Canaletto likely brought various drawings of his native city with him to England, such as his pen and brown ink capriccio drawing of the church of the Redentore, dated 1742, now at The Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge (fig. 3).  As Constable rightly noted, the vantage point and distinct lighting found in this drawing can be closely compared to that of the present view of the Church of the Redentore.6  Although the setting of this drawing is fictional, the façade and architecture of the church is captured with the utmost detail, and such a work would have been an invaluable reference for the artist while working abroad, especially since his views of the church of the Redentore with the church of San Giacomo proved to be one of his most sought after and successful compositions. This comes as no surprise, as the view would have appealed to numerous clients in England, for it is here that the most devout admirers of Palladian architecture could be found.  In addition to the version at Woburn Abbey along with the present version and its related pairs, further examples of this view of slightly larger dimensions include one formerly in the collection of Lady Cromwell, now in the Manchester City Art Gallery,7 and another formerly in the collection of Lord and Lady Forte, offered in these rooms on 26 January 2012, lot 58 (fig. 4).8  

On the other hand, the present view of the Prisons of San Marco is a unique composition for the artist of which no other version is known.  This famed landmark only appears elsewhere in an autograph capriccio which once formed part of a series of thirteen overdoor canvases that decorated the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana, a house on the Grand Canal belonging to Canaletto’s great patron, Joseph Smith, and that sold in these rooms on 29 January 2009, lot 89 (fig. 5).  In this imaginary setting of this capriccio, the prisons are transposed to the Venetian mainland and set as a wing to a villa in a Piazza with a coach and various townsfolk.  Because of the unusual setting, the identification of the building in the work long went unrecognized, first listed by Constable as that of the Villa Pisani, Stra(?), but later identified by Mr. Richard Zimmerman as the Prisons of San Marco. 


A Note on the Provenance

The Neave Family of Dagnam Park Essex owned a number of important works by Antonio Canaletto (and his school) from various moments in his career. Although Constable only notes that “the group of paintings belonging to Sir Arundell Neave…were acquired by his forebears in the early nineteenth century,” according to the Neave family they were acquired by Sir Richard Neave (1731-1814), and this seems almost certainly the case.9  Neave was not only the founder of the family fortunes, but also a successful merchant and director of the Bank of England, and it seems very likely that he would have met Canaletto in England, where he would have commissioned works from the artist and ordered more from him after he returned home to Venice. The works in the collection that were likely painted in England may include the present pair, a Venetian Capriccio,10 and three views of Rome.11  Two other pairs of views in the collection date to the period after Canaletto left England and returned to Venice.12   Sir Richard Neave was also almost certainly a patron of other 18th century artists, including Francesco Zuccarelli and Thomas Gainsborough, who in the 1760s painted a full length double portrait of Sir Richard Neave and his wife, in which he is depicted as a connoisseur of art, showing a drawing to his wife.  After having possibly been in the Neave Family, this pair of paintings then passed briefly into the famed collection of G.A.F. Cavendish Bentinck, who collected paintings from the most illustrious Venetian artists, such as Tintoretto, Veronese, Giambattista Tiepolo, Guardi, and Canaletto. 

1.  See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, no. 316, reproduced vol. I, plate 59.
2.  See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, nos. 317 and 318***, reproduced in Links, 1998, under Literature, plates 268 and 269.
3.  See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, no. 301, reproduced vol. I, plate 57, and Links, 1998, under Literature, no. 301**, reproduced plate 268).  
4.  See Corboz, Links 1998, and Puppi, all under Literature
5.  See Beddington, under Literature, p. 169.
6.  See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, p. 590, under cat. no. 775.
7.  24 by 37 inches. See Links, 1998, under Literature, no. 318**, plate 236)
8.  23 by 37 inches.  See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, no. 318, reproduced vol. I, plate 203.
9.  See Constable, under Literature, p. 137.
10.  See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, no. 467, reproduced  vol. I, plate 87.
11. See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, nos. 395, 397, 401, reproduced vol. I, plates 72-73.
12. See Constable, under Literature, vol. II, nos. 46, 74, 71, 176, reproduced vol. I, plates 25, 38, and 232 (in the 1989 edition).