This view is from the bank of the River Thames, looking across a sprawling meadow towards Eton College on the horizon. A shady glade gives way to a softly lit landscape, with folk enjoying the summer’s day – a family group are picnicking while other people fish and boat nearby. A finely painted tree frames and leads the eye towards the middle distance, as do the layers of landscape and river bathed in subtle variations of light and shadow.
There are a number of inaccuracies in the depiction of the chapel, college buildings and surrounding houses, which suggests the artist had little knowledge of the view and perhaps relied on a sketch made on the spot at an earlier date. Painted in around 1754, this is one of the last pictures Canaletto made during his nine-year stay in England; by 1755 he had returned home to Venice.
This view is from the bank of the River Thames, looking across a sprawling meadow towards Eton College on the horizon. Most of Canaletto’s English views overlook the Thames in the heart of London, in the same way that his most engaging Venetian scenes are never far from the Grand Canal. But here he has captured the river’s peaceful, meandering journey through the countryside.
A shady glade gives way to a softly lit river bank, with folk enjoying the fine summer’s day – away from the hustle and bustle of city life, they fish, boat and picnic. There’s a family group just in front of us, the smartly dressed man carrying a basket. They may have been brought up river by the boatman emerging over the riverbank and carrying an oar nearby. On the far side of the river, you can just make out groups of people out for a stroll.
The dominant building is the chapel, finished in 1482, and to its right the red-brick buildings of Eton College, a school founded by King Henry VI in 1440. There are a number of inaccuracies in the depiction of these buildings and many of those that surround them, which suggests the artist had little knowledge of the view. He perhaps relied on a sketch made on the spot at an earlier date, or an inaccurate drawing or engraving by someone else.
A finely painted tree frames the scene and leads the eye towards the middle distance, as do the layers of landscape and river bathed in subtle variations of light and shadow. These were well-established features of landscape painting, present in the work of the seventeenth-century Italianate landscapists – see Claude’s Landscape with Narcissus and Echo or Gaspard Dughet’s Landscape with Abraham and Issac – as well as that of contemporary English view painters, like Richard Wilson in his Holt Bridge on the River Dee. Canaletto’s scenes overlooking the River Thames in and around London influenced view painters in England in the later eighteenth century, such as Samuel Scott and William Marlow.
Painted in around 1754, this idyllic scene and another work in our collection, Interior of the Rotunda at Ranelagh, are among the last pictures Canaletto made during his time in England; by 1755 he had returned home to Venice. The light and airy atmosphere and the broad, fluid brushstrokes which make up the figures, foliage and still water, are typical of the artist’s late style – look at his Italian views of the late 1750s, for example Piazza San Marco and the Colonnade of the Procuratie Nuove.
We don’t know who commissioned the picture, though the subject would have appealed to any of the school’s affluent former students. This image appeared as the front cover of a volume of The Spectator, a British magazine, produced as an Eton leaving gift in 1847.
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