Two Views of the Bacino di San Marco by Canaletto, c. 1735-44
This month we are celebrating the return of these two magnificent views of Venice by Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697–1768), more commonly known as Canaletto. Their return marks the successful beginning of a major five-year conservation project, working with the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge, of the Wallace Collection’s eighteenth-century Italian vedute, or topographical view paintings.
Canaletto is the most celebrated view painter of 18th-century Venice. During the eighteenth century, Venice was an important maritime republic attracting countless foreign merchants and tourists. Venice’s vibrant culture and beautiful setting on the sea made it a vital stop on the Grand Tour, a popular journey undertaken by Northern European gentlemen. Canaletto’s remarkable ability to capture Venice’s unique beauty was greatly admired by British visitors on the Grand Tour who appreciated his apparent topographical accuracy and precision, and desired views of Venice to take back home as souvenirs.
These two unusually large views are the finest paintings by Canaletto at the Wallace Collection. They were acquired by Francis Seymour Conway, the 1st Marquess of Hertford, at an unknown date. The 1st Marquess, a contemporary of Canaletto, went on the Grand Tour in 1738-39, when Canaletto was at the height of his career. These two views are likely to have been reminders of these travels.
Both paintings represent the Bacino di San Marco—Venice’s inner harbour of Saint Mark’s — but from opposite vantage points. Canaletto often conceived his paintings in pairs or series, a tactic that enabled his patrons to see more of the city, but also one that ensured the sale of multiple pictures to a single client. The painting on the left presents a view towards the church of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance at the right. In the pendant on the right, the view is taken from the steps of San Giorgio Maggiore with a view towards the church of Santa Maria della Salute.
The recent, extensive conservation treatment of these two paintings involved first removing the old, discoloured varnish and overpaint. Any losses were refilled and retouched as appropriate. Scientific analysis using x-radiography and pigment sampling was undertaken to better understand Canaletto’s working methods. The conservation of these two pictures has revealed the subtlety of the true colour harmonies in the paintings and the descriptive texture of the paint. For example, numerous incisions in the paint layer were revealed in the buildings in the painting on the left (P499) that had been previously covered up by the old, thick varnish.
We are grateful to the Bank of America Charitable Foundation for enabling us to undertake the conservation treatment needed to stabilise the condition of these two paintings and to renew their wonderfully vibrant colours. Our fundraising campaign for the conservation of the remaining Venetian vedute paintings at the Wallace Collection continues. If you would like to participate by donating to this wonderful project please email email@example.com
1 and 27 November at 1pm with Dr Lelia Packer, Curator of Paintings, Miniatures and Manuscripts.