Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, was born in Venice and worked for his father, a successful theatrical scene painter. In 1719 Canaletto traveled to Rome where he probably encountered the work of other artists painting vedute (views), such as Gaspare Vanvitelli. Shortly after his return to Venice in 1720 Canaletto began depicting scenic views of the city. His paintings were primarily collected by Englishmen on the Grand Tour, which was an important part of the education and maturation of wealthy young Englishmen. Vedute, such as Canaletto’s The Grand Canal, served as souvenirs as well as visible proof of the impressive journey.
The Grand Canal from Campo di San Vio was painted for the Englishman George Proctor. Its pendant, also a gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Molo: Looking West, Ducal Palace Right, hangs in the El Paso Museum of Art. The subject of the canal seen from the Campo di San Vio was one of Canaletto’s favorite images of Venice and at least twelve views of this scene, painted in the 1720s and 1730s, are known today. In each of these paintings Canaletto selected a slightly different viewpoint or included a varied assemblage of boats and people.
Here the viewer looks east along the Grand Canal, with the peeling façade of the Palazzo Barbarigo in the foreground and a woman leaning out of the upper balcony. The perspective on the south side of the canal terminates at the Punta della Dogana and includes the dome of Santa Maria della Salute above the palaces at the right. One of the most majestic palaces on the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, designed by Jacopo Sansovino, perches on the north side. The viewer’s first reaction to Canaletto’s paintings is often to believe that they offer a descriptive representation of what the artist actually saw. His work, however, involves extensive manipulation of buildings, piazzas, canals, and perspective. Paintings such as The Grand Canal show the influence of Canaletto’s earlier work as a scene painter for the theater, demonstrated by the ease with which he captures interesting lighting and multiple viewpoints. Canaletto’s fascination with people is evidenced by the beggars, gondoliers, tradesmen, and aristocrats who populate his vedute paintings.
An exhibition highlighting the artist’s work entitled Venice in the Age of Canaletto will open at the Brooks February 14, 2010.