Venice: The lower reaches of the Grand Canal
A drawing of a lower section of the Grand Canal in Venice. On the right is the Palazzo Corner della Cà Grande, in the middle distance is Palazzo Pisani. On the left are the Palazzi Mula and Barbarigo, and in the distance the belltower of Santa Maria della Carità, and beyond the Palazzo Contarini.
Canaletto’s reputation as the greatest Venetian view-painter of the eighteenth century is much stronger in the Anglo-Saxon world than in his native Italy, where hardly any of his paintings are to be found. Most of Canaletto’s patrons were English nobility on the Grand Tour, and his dealings with the milordi were often facilitated through Joseph Smith, whose palazzo on the Grand Canal was a meeting place for tourists. Smith himself was Canaletto’s greatest patron, and between the mid-1720s and 1762 he assembled a collection of 50 paintings, 143 drawings and 21 etchings, purchased by George III with the rest of Smith’s collection in 1762. Smith had mounted almost all of his drawings and etchings by Canaletto on the pages of an album that was dismantled early in the twentieth century.
Though the drawings by Canaletto from Smith’s collection often repeat the motifs seen in his paintings, they are not direct studies for those paintings but independent works of art, mostly executed in groups that are uniform in size and style. This is one of a set of eight views on the Grand Canal. Each is a tour de force of penwork, the water dashed in with vigorous horizontal scribbles and the buildings shaded with strict diagonal hatching; only the treatment of the sky varies from drawing to drawing, ranging from light clouds blocked in with simple diagonals, to the graduated cross-hatching seen at its most dense to the right here. The drawings were not made on the spot, but carefully constructed in the studio from a number of open-air sketches from different vantage points, including those on the pages of a sketchbook now in the Accademia, Venice.
This view looks north-west from near Santa Maria della Salute along the lower reach of the Grand Canal. The Palazzo Corner della Cà Grande (now the Prefettura) is on the right, and the tower of Santa Maria della Carità is in the distance; today the Accademia bridge crosses the middle ground of the view. A second sheet from the Grand Canal series gives a very similar view (RL 7470), from a little closer to the Palazzo Corner and with differing river traffic. This near-duplication suggests that Canaletto had no intention of providing a ‘survey’ of the Canal, but that his concern was primarily aesthetic.
Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection