This is a very early work by Bernardo Bellotto, the talented nephew of the influential Venetian artist Canaletto. It was painted in around 1738, when he was only about 16 years old and working in his uncle’s studio in Venice. By this time Bellotto was creating his own versions of some of Canaletto’s most popular views.
He prepared this composition, which shows the Grand Canal with the church of Santa Croce to the right, in a drawing (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt), itself based on a design by Canaletto (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). While Bellotto has followed Canaletto’s scene quite closely here – the beautiful barge or burchiello to the left appears in both – he altered the figures and boats in the foreground.
Bellotto’s distinctive style can be seen even at this early stage. Here, he tends towards a silvery light and cool palette, and has used thick, broad brushstrokes to create clouds and give texture to the turquoise water.
This is a very early work by Bernardo Bellotto, the talented nephew of the influential Venetian artist Canaletto. It was painted in around 1738 when Bellotto was only about 16 years old and working in his uncle’s studio in Venice. By this time Bellotto was creating his own versions of some of Canaletto’s most popular views.
While many of Bellotto’s pictures were presumably sold under Canaletto’s name, his distinctive artistic personality can be seen even at this early stage. He prepared this composition in a drawing (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt), itself based on a design by Canaletto (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). Canaletto’s pupils usually worked under his supervision and from drawings made by him, but Bellotto often sought to ‘improve’ these compositions. While Bellotto has followed Canaletto’s scene quite closely here – the beautiful passenger barge, or burchiello, being towed along the Grand Canal on the far left appears in both – he altered the figures and boats in the foreground. The plain pinkish facade of the church of Santa Croce can be seen to the right.
While a pupil would usually imitate the manner of the master, Bellotto excelled as a painter in Canaletto’s studio and this picture shows the subtle differences between their styles. Here, the young artist tends towards a more silvery light and cooler palette, which was to remain a characteristic of his style for the rest of his career – compare this work to The Grand Canal with San Piccolo Simeone, which was painted around the same time. Bellotto has created a richly textured surface by applying the paint broadly and thickly, particularly in the rippling water and clouds in the lower sky, composed of horizontal lines. Despite this, the picture entered the National Gallery’s collection as a Canaletto in 1910. It was considered to be the work of a follower for much of the twentieth century, demonstrating how little Bellotto was judged as a distinct artistic personality until later in the century.
Within a few decades of painting this work, Bellotto would become one of the most sought-after view painters in eighteenth-century Europe. His monumental views of northern Europe, like The Fortress of Königstein from the North, surpassed even his uncle’s most ambitious Venetian pictures in their scope and innovation – though Bellotto did also continue to work under Canaletto’s name in northern Europe.
The right half of this composition appears in another work in the collection, Venice: Upper reaches of The Grand Canal facing Santa Croce, by a follower of Canaletto.
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