Bringing Canaletto's Venice to life

  • Published 13 December 2018

We delve into the sights of 18th-century Venice through the paintings of Canaletto, and find out how the Wallace Collection are planning to bring them even more vividly to life.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, a ‘grand tour’ of the cultural hotspots of western Europe became an essential part of any young aristocrat’s education. Souvenirs were as popular then as they are now – and if money and time are no object, why not bring home scenes from your travels painted by a true master?

Venice born and bred, Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697-1798) – better known as Canaletto – first learned his craft under his father, a theatrical scene-painter. His reputation quickly grew, and he was admired by both tourists and fellow artists for his technical skill.

A master at capturing the life and colour of the vibrant metropolitan city, from regattas on the Grand Canal to the splendour of St Mark's Square, Canaletto was also adept at cheating scenes to appeal to souvenir-hunters. He often included more tourist attractions than was strictly possible from one viewpoint, while maintaining the impression of topographical accuracy so valued by his customers.

By the mid-1730s his paintings were being made into prints, raising his profile even further, and he became the most renowned view-painter, etcher and draughtsman of the 18th century.

Canaletto, Venice: the Riva degli Schiavoni, c1740-1745 © The Wallace Collection

Canaletto, Venice: the Riva degli Schiavoni, c1740-1745

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© The Wallace Collection

Canaletto at the Wallace Collection

London's Wallace Collection holds a number of stunning views by Canaletto himself and several more from his studio, which possibly comprised only his nephew and father – but the varnish on some of the paintings has now yellowed, dulling their impact, and their frames are in need of conservation.

Working in partnership with the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the Wallace Collection are hoping to restore each picture to its original splendour.

As part of this project, they're currently crowdfunding to be able to clean and conduct research into two of Canaletto’s much-loved 'pendants' (paintings conceived as a pair): Venice: Molo with Santa Maria della Salute and Venice: the Riva degli Schiavoni.

Canaletto, Venice: the Molo with Santa Maria della Salute, c1740-1745 © The Wallace Collection

Canaletto, Venice: the Molo with Santa Maria della Salute, c1740-1745

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© The Wallace Collection

Two special paintings

Exquisite works of art in their own right, these paintings are also a window onto 18th-century Venice. Canaletto used a traditional Venetian ground of warm red to prepare his canvases which made the colours more vibrant – the paintings are supposed to jump out at viewers in colour and detail.

We also know that Canaletto made incisions in wet paint to reinforce architectural structures. Studying these and other artistic techniques using x-rays and infrared reflectography at the Hamilton Kerr Institute will offer unprecedented insight into Canaletto’s practice.

How can you help?

To help the Wallace Collection conserve these two works by Canaletto and enable the most up-to-date technical and scholarly research into their composition, you can donate to the project through Art Happens, our crowdfunding platform which gives museums and audiences the opportunity to bring creative projects to life, together.

Every contribution makes a significant impact in helping the museum reach their £17,500 target – and you can choose from a range of rewards including specially designed tote bags, prints and silk scarves inspired by Canaletto’s paintings, as well as unique access to the museum with behind-the-scenes experiences.

Find out more about the project – and help make art happen.

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Tags: Art Happens