Lot 75
  • 75

David Roberts, R.A.

200,000 - 300,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • David Roberts, R.A.
  • Venice, Approach to the Grand Canal
  • signed and dated lower right: David Roberts . R.A. 1855
  • oil on canvas
  • 25 1/2  by 45 1/2  in.; 64.8 by 115.6 cm. 


Commissioned from the artist by Joseph Miller (1830-1865) in 1855;
Thence by descent to the present owner.


London, Royal Academy, 1856, no. 383 (as “Venice-Approach to the Grand Canal”).


J. Ballantine, The Life of David Roberts R.A., Edinburgh 1866, p. 252, cat. no. 200.

Catalogue Note

Venice-Approach to the Grand Canal, one of the last great works by David Roberts left in private hands, was last seen by the wider public on the occasion of its commission and presentation at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1856.  The painting’s near-perfect condition is complemented by its unbroken provenance from its original commission by the British engineer Joseph Miller until the present day. Miller, the picture's first owner, commissioned the painting directly from David Roberts in 1855, the year before it was exhibited for the first and only time at the prestigious Royal Academy. Roberts was a full member of the Royal Academy and he first exhibited there in 1824. By 1855 he was a commercially successful and highly sought after artist, which makes the then handsome sum of £150 which Miller paid for the picture an unsurprising figure. Furthermore, that the original sketch for the painting with annotated notes by Roberts regarding Miller’s commission is still in existence (fig.1) offers enlightening insight into Roberts' working method. The sketch contains the essential information of the transaction, namely the price, buyer, and the fact that it was exhibited in 1856. 

David Roberts was a great traveler, constantly seeking new material and interesting subjects for the sunlit townscape views that were so popular with collectors and the public. He often went to France and Belgium, spent a year travelling round Spain and a year in the Near East, but only visited Italy twice - once to Venice and once to Rome. His Venice visit was in October 1851, travelling via Switzerland during late September and returning through Vienna.

"I am so puzzled it will take me many days to sober down," Roberts wrote to his daughter two days after he arrived, adding that "great as Canaletti is & much as I have hitherto admired his works, they fall short of the reality...perhaps in brilliancy of effect Turner is more near, but still it is not Venice...here is a combination of architectural beauty - with Statuary - boats - water & effects combined as impress upon the mind at once". Ten days later he wrote to his son-in-law, Henry Sanford Bicknell, that he was "at work from 9 o'clock until 4 or 5 in the afternoon; I find a Gondola the most convenient as well as agreeable, as I can get all my traps around me & free from beggars & idlers with which the town swarms".

He made a number of oil studies on the spot: "I have made two or three of the Doge's Palace from the Water, which, although it has been so often done, yet I think can bear repainting; besides Venice without St Mark's & the Doge's Palace is like London without St Paul's or Edinburgh without the Castle." One of the known oil studies (in a private collection) shows the Doge's Palace from the same viewpoint as the present lot. It is dated October 7th 1851. Roberts made a large number of oil sketches, pencil drawings and watercolors while in Venice, using them as the basis for many paintings over the next twelve years. He considered that he had been able to "skim the cream off" in the studies he made during his month in Venice.

Of the comparable works of Venice by Roberts, the most notable are: a view of similar size and almost identical view of the Doge's Palace, Piazzetta, and Santa Maria della Salute, sold Sotheby’s London, 22 November 2007, lot 81; and The Giudecca, painted one year before the present work, in the Yale Center for British art (fig. 2).