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Buildings and Figures near a River with Rapids
Michele Marieschi
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This painting, like its pendant Buildings and Figures near a River with Shipping is a capriccio, a scene made up of elements drawn from reality and fantasy. The cascade at the right and the colourful figures on the opposite bank – resting shepherds, elegantly dressed ladies, and a milkmaid attending to her cows – are typical features of pastoral landscapes. The two groups of trees at the sides are like a stage set, framing the composition and giving it a sense of balance and depth. A mountainous landscape lies beyond.

One of the pleasures of this picture and its pair is Marieschi’s use of paint: he has applied it freely and thickly, particularly in shaping the buildings. He has clearly enjoyed crafting a fantastical world of overlapping towers, rustic roofs, balconies, windows and turrets, all bathed in warm sunlight.

Key facts
Artist Michele Marieschi
Artist dates 1710 - 1743
Full title Buildings and Figures near a River with Rapids
Series Two Fanciful Scenes
Date made 1735-43
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 61 x 92.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by the Misses Cohen as part of the John Samuel collection, 1906
Inventory number NG2103
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two Fanciful Scenes

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Buildings and Figures near a River with Shipping and its companion piece Buildings and Figures near a River with Rapids date from around the mid-1730s. Both show windmills and crumbling towers, and spirited figures gathered along the water’s edge on horseback and foot; both are surrounded by water – the sea, canals and rivers were a lifeline to those living in and around Venice.

Marieschi spent his early career in Venice but we know very little about his training. He began to paint vedute (view paintings) having been encouraged by the great success of his fellow Venetian artist, Canaletto, but these scenes are distinguished from Canaletto’s work by their exaggerated perspective, more atmospheric colour and loose brushstrokes. These capricci views – works that combine fantasy elements and reality – were likely inspired by those of Guardi, like A Caprice with Ruins on the Seashore (also in the National Gallery’s collection).

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