This exhilarating scene shows the annual regatta (boat race) along Venice’s Grand Canal, and Canaletto has successfully captured the crowd’s excitement as the competitors skilfully manoeuvre their craft up the canal. Although many of the figures in the foreground have their backs to us, we still get a sense of their mood: most stand in a state of suspense, arms raised or pointing.
The sharply receding view intensifies the drama of the race: we feel like we're watching the boats speed away. Intense sunlight picks out the tightly packed spectators along the waterfront and in buildings, displaying brightly coloured cloths. We see wealthy Venetians in colourful rowing boats and ordinary folk in smaller gondolas.
This picture was painted in about 1735, and the scene was obviously popular among Canaletto’s clients – he returned to the subject in a later version, also in our collection, made around 1740.
This exhilarating scene shows the annual regatta (boat race) along Venice’s Grand Canal, an event which drew crowds of Venetians and foreign visitors and continues to this day. Canaletto has successfully captured the crowd’s excitement as the competitors skilfully manoeuvre their craft (battelli) up the middle of the canal – you can almost imagine their roar, drowning out the splashing of oars.
Many of the figures in the foreground have their backs to us. Most stand in a state of suspense, arms raised, a masked figure in a black cape waves a white cloth or handkerchief in encouragement, while others point towards the boats. Wealthy Venetians sit in their large, colourful rowing boats, or bissone, while ordinary folk occupy an array of smaller vessels.
This picture was painted in about 1735. The scene was obviously popular among Canaletto’s clients as he returned to the subject many times, including a later version in the National Gallery’s collection. Painted around 1740, he made slight changes to the composition to achieve a better sense of the scale and atmosphere of the famous race. Even within these short years, there was considerable development in Canaletto’s style and the breadth of his artistic invention. Particularly striking are the changes to the way he paints people – there are considerably less of them in this picture and they are depicted in a more hurried style, losing definition as our eye moves further back. For the later version, he adopted a more mechanical and refined approach, focusing on crisp, intricate details and the vivacity and variety of these figures, with precise dots of paint to describe the receding crowds.
Here, as in the later painting, the sharply receding view intensifies the drama of the race: we feel like we're watching the boats speed away. This is further emphasised by the bright sunlight that hits the sides of the houses to the right and picks out each window and balcony to the left, some displaying brightly coloured cloths and almost all tightly packed with spectators. In this earlier picture, we are closer to the action and to the glorious floating pavilion, or Macchina della Regatta, on which spectators in ordinary dress and carnival attire have gathered, positioned at the volta del Canal, the bend in the canal where the races ended.
Luca Carlevarijs, one of Canaletto’s early rivals, established the standard composition for depictions of regattas and both of Canaletto’s pictures were clearly inspired by The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honour of Frederick IV, King of Denmark and Norway (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), painted in 1711.
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