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The Exhibition

In the eighteenth-century Venice was a thriving maritime republic, attracting merchants and tourists from all over Europe and beyond. The carnival with its street theatre and masks, the gambling and opera houses, the rich artistic heritage, even the brothels made Venice a vital stop on the Grand Tour. This was a popular journey through Italy undertaken by young noblemen from northern Europe in search of cultural enrichment.

Antonio Canal (1697–1768), better known as Canaletto, is today one of Venice’s best known artists. His success came primarily from selling view paintings of Venice to Grand Tourists, especially the British. Many of his commissions were handled by Joseph Smith (c.1674–1770), an Englishman living in Venice who was appointed British Consul in 1744.

Over many decades, Smith assembled his own collection of the works of Canaletto and many of the artist’s contemporaries – among them the history painter Sebastiano Ricci, landscape painters Marco Ricci and Francesco Zuccarelli, the pastellist Rosalba Carriera and the genre painter Pietro Longhi.

Joseph Smith’s vast collection of paintings, drawings, prints, books, gems and medals was bought by George III (r. 1760–1820) in 1762, and the Royal Collection now holds one of the world’s finest collections of eighteenth-century Venetian art. In this exhibition Canaletto’s work is shown alongside that of his fellow artists, giving a vibrant picture of life and culture in eighteenth-century Venice.