Friday, June 02, 2017

Canaletto and the Art of Venice - recommended

Canaletto and the Art of Venice takes over the entire Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace and displays an extremely fine collection of drawings, prints and paintings of Venice by Canaletto.

I was entirely unprepared for how stunning the new exhibition is and I highly recommend this exhibition to those who love drawing and like paintings by Canaletto and/or which incorporate architecture and people engaged in activities of the day.  Those who love to see complete series of paintings are in for a treat!

The exhibition continues until Sunday 12th November 2017.  It contains c.200 works of art of which about half are drawings and 40 are paintings by Canaletto.

The extremely impressive final gallery with complete series of Canaletto paintings
Paintings by Canaletto | Royal Collection 

Some facts

  • The Royal Collection has an extremely fine collection of drawings and paintings of Venice by Canaletto (1697-1768). It is the largest collection in the world. One of its key features is that it incorporates whole sets of paintings of Venice and Rome by Canaletto
  • The works come from the collection of a man called Joseph Smith who used to be the British Consul in Venice - living in a palazzo (opposite the Fish Market and the other side of the Vaporetto stop from the Ca d'Oro)
  • In an era of the Grand Tour, Smith virtually invented Canaletto as the "must have a view by" artist in Venice. He created the market for "vedute" (view painting). He did this by showing off his personal collection of view paintings of Venice by Canaletto paintings in his palazzo when people came to see him. Before long, Smith had become Canaletto's agent for commissions for more from the Grand Tourists
  • George III bought Smith's entire collection of books, paintings, drawings and prints when Smith decided he needed to realise capital to make sure his second wife would be well provided for after his death. George III was really after the books but also happy to have the artwork!
The exhibition takes as its theme the notion that you are walking through Smith's Palazzo and seeing how he displayed his artwork.

Key features of the exhibition 

The exhibition starts with two larger than normal paintings featuring two of the water-orientated festivals in Venice

  • the race along the Grand Canal held annually on 2 February, the feast of the Purification of the Virgin and 
  • the return to the Molo of the Bucintoro, the ceremonial vessel used just once each year for the Wedding of the Sea, held on Ascension Day ("Festa della Sensa")

A Regatta on the Grand Canal c.1733-4
oil on canvas
Canaletto | Royal Collection
The Bacino di S. Marco on Ascension Day, c.1733-4 
by Canaletto
Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
The second gallery is devoted to the sketches, drawings and prints of Venice and around about executed by Canaletto. (I'll be doing a separate blog post about these.)

Drawings Gallery - followed by Prints Gallery at the end
Drawings and Etchings mainly by Canaletto | Royal Collection 
The Bacino looking west on Ascension Day
Pen and ink, over ruled and free pencil and pinpointing | RCIN 907453
Canaletto | Royal Collection
A drawing of the Bacino in Venice. On the far left is Santa Maria della Salute. On the opposite side of the water the Granai, Zecca, Libreria, Campanile and Palazzo Ducale are visible. The Doge's galley, the Bucintoro is moored in front of the Piazzetta in the centre of the composition.
The next Gallery is large and devoted to other paintings in Smith's collection by painters contemporaneous to Canaletto. As the curators remarked one does wonder how he managed to hang all his acquisitions and whether he ran out of wall space in his palazzo!

Paintings by other Venetian painters in Smith's Collection
This gallery includes a set of fine pastels by Rosalba Carriera  which are being exhibited for the very first time. These pastels were some of the most admired works in Joseph Smith's collection. After the sale of 1762 the pastel was put on display in George III's bedroom alongside the pastel of Summer.  Personally I found the use of sfumato a bit too much. They came across a little like the 18th century version of a refined lads mag.

A Personification of Winter
and A Personification of Summer
by Rosalba Carriera | Royal Collection 
The final gallery provides a very fine display of various complete series of Canaletto paintings. The sets are all together for the first time since 1980.
  • six large views of Venice produced in the 1720s - these were typically produced in pairs with the weight in each side being either on the right or the left - with each side balancing the other - as can be seen below
  • five Roman views produced some 20 years later
  • 12 paintings (late 1720s) providing a near-complete journey down the Grand Canal - they were very probably displayed in Smith's Palazzo and acted in effect as a catalogue for his visitors on their Grand Tour
Six large views of Venice
Four of the five views of Rome Series and a series of paintings for "over doors"
Paintings by Canaletto | Royal Collection 
    (Left) The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking East, with Santa Maria della Salute
    (Right) Beginning of the Grand Canal Series
    Paintings by Canaletto | Royal Collection 
    The Grand Canal Series
    Paintings by Canaletto | Royal Collection 
    Two views near the Rialto Bridge
    in the top view Smith's Palazzo is on the extreme right - nearly opposite the Fish Market

    Read other reviews of the exhibition below

    The art specialists

    The newspapers

    The blogs

    Other exhibitions and Canaletto and paintings of Venice

    The National Gallery had an exhibition called Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals (13 October 2010 – 16 January 2011) which stated at the time that it presented the "the finest assembly of Venetian views since the much-celebrated display in Venice in 1967". It featured works by Canaletto and all the major practitioners of the genre.

    I remember it well - and found it most interesting for the comparisons of different styles of verdute (view painting) of the same subject matter. See my sketching blog post Canaletto & His Rivals at the National Gallery

    However I'd have to say this exhibition at the Queen's Gallery is way better when it comes to paintings by Canaletto of Venice.

    You can also see a very fine private collection of 24 paintings by Canaletto at Woburn Abbey
    24 paintings eventually arrived in England; and within the Abbey Archives we have three bills to Joseph Smith, dated 1733, 1735 and 1736, and totalling just over £188 (about £16,000 today).

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