The Wallace Collection is about to embark on a new research project focusing on the impressive collection of Venetian view paintings, currently on display in the West Galleries.
The tradition of Venetian view painting (or ‘vedute’ to use the Italian term) is intrinsically linked to Giovanni Antonio Canal, more commonly known as Canaletto, the most famous practitioner of these pictures, which proved so popular with British visitors to Venice (Canaletto’s main patrons) in the eighteenth century. All of the vedute in the Wallace Collection are connected to Canaletto in some way – of the 28 paintings, 8 were painted by Canaletto himself, 3 are considered to be studio works, 7 are identified as after Canaletto, 1 is attributed to a follower of Canaletto and 9 are by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793), Canaletto’s younger rival and follower.
One of the aims of our new project is to expand on some of these attributions – in other words, to learn more about how Canaletto’s studio worked and was organised. This has often been the subject of disagreement and confusion in the past, simply because so little is known about Canaletto’s assistants and minor followers. Take, for example, The Grand Canal from the Palazzo Flangini to San Marcuola, a typical veduta showing a view across Venice’s main waterway.
This painting was acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1855, when it was believed to be by Canaletto himself. He wrote to his agent that it was ‘not a very good’ view of Venice; one that he had ‘no fancy for’. In 1928, the Canaletto scholar W.G. Constable also expressed some doubts, and attributed the painting Canaletto’s nephew, Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780). By 1968, the then-curator of the Wallace Collection was even less convinced by its quality, and catalogued the painting as a studio work. An updated edition of Constable’s catalogue was published in 1976, in which the attribution to Canaletto was reinstated. This pattern of shifting attributions applies to many of the vedute in the Wallace Collection – as it does to many Canaletto-esque paintings in other collections.
Another important aim of the project is to carry out conservation work on the paintings. Currently, the viewer’s appreciation of these pictures is obscured by layers of hardened and discoloured varnish, resulting in overall yellowish appearance. The exception to this is 4 of the Guardi paintings, which were cleaned in 2002, revealing the vibrancy of the artist’s original designs. Our ambition is to clean and restore all of the Venetian views in the Wallace Collection to their former glory.
Throughout the course of the project, we will also be investigating the history of these works in the Wallace Collection. Why, how, when and where were these paintings acquired and displayed? Six of the Canalettos were acquired by the 1st Marquess of Hertford, probably as a direct result of his travels to Italy in the eighteenth century. However, the majority were bought in the nineteenth century by the 4th Marquess of Hertford. Of particular note is the 4th Marquess’s taste for Guardi, an artist who appears to have been much more popular with French collectors. As is well known, the founders of the Wallace Collection had strong links in France and a particular taste for French art and culture, which might partly explain this interest in Guardi’s work.
Check back for future blogs to find out how the project is progressing and our research findings about this fascinating group of paintings.
Want to find out about other research projects the Wallace Collection has undertaken? Click here to discover what we found out in our last major project, the Reynolds Research Project.