Last Chance to See...
Last week I took a trip to the National Gallery to see its exhibition Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals. If you want to do the same, be quick! It closes on 16 January. It's well worth a visit. Art exhibitions are not always exciting, but this one is a must-see.
Venice has always held a fascination for me, despite (perhaps because) never having been there. It's no secret that Mettingloom in The Dog of the North was conceived as a frozen Venice, with its mesh of canals and polished intrigues. Canaletto's paintings were a major inspiration, even though they date from a period some 200 years later than the 'high Venetian' period which so delighted me.
From that perspective alone, a Canaletto exhibition would have been worth a couple of hours of my time, but the National Gallery show offered a great deal more. His paintings were juxtaposed with those of his contemporaries to demonstrate how different artists had dealt with the same landscapes. 18th century Venice was popular as a 'Grand Tour' destination, and in an age before cameras, paintings of the city were much in demand as souvenirs.
At the start of his career, Canaletto's work is contrasted with that of Luca Carlevarijs. Canaletto's pictures are clearly more precise and vibrant. Later on we see contrasts with other artists working out of his own studio (and issuing canvasses in Canaletto's name). The most prominent of these was Canaletto's nephew, Bernardo Bellotto. Many of Bellotto's works are all but indistinguishable from his uncle's until they are displayed side-by-side, where Bellotto's more saturated colours and emphasised buildings become apparent. I found myself preferring the pupil's work to the master's.
|Bellotto, The Piazetta, c.1743|
Later in his career, Canaletto's work is set alongside Francesco Guardi's. Guardi is deliberately less precise than Canaletto, looking ahead towards the 19th century rather than working in the Canaletto tradition.
I can't recommend the exhibition too highly: a cluster of beautiful paintings, liberal historical context and a real sense of 18th century Venice.