At the dawn of the 18th Century, when the aptly named Giovanni Antonio Canal, a.k.a. Canaletto, was born, Venice was perhaps the most desirable tourist destination in Europe. The son of a theatrical artist, Canaletto was perfectly suited for his future as the most successful view painter of his time. And now through 12 November, the largest known collection of his works is on view in Canaletto & the Art of Venice, in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
In a sense, view paintings are like aggrandised postcards: lovely, romanticised images of holiday destinations intended for the walls of the wealthy. But Canaletto elevated the form to its utmost heights. His works not only capture the epic beauty and refinement of 1700s Venetian architecture, they also convey the human drama, the grit, and the atmosphere that to this day give the City of Bridges its unique sense of place.
The provenance of the work shown in Canaletto & the Art of Venice offers its own fascinating story. King George III purchased the work in a package deal involving the entire collection of Joseph Smith, a British businessman who lived in Venice and was friends with Canaletto. Smith collected the view paintings and showed them off to his British visitors. Impressed, they too sought paintings by Canaletto, transactions in which Smith inserted himself as agent and dealer.
Image caption: Canaletto, The Grand Canal looking East from Campo San Vio towards the Bacino, c.1727-8, from a set of 12 paintings of the Grand Canal. Royal Collection Trust/(c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017. For single use only in connection with the exhibition 'Canaletto & the Art of Venice' at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 19 May - 12 November 2017.