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Buildings and Figures near a River with Shipping
Michele Marieschi

A meandering river leads our eye from a working watermill on the right and folk washing clothes at the shoreline towards a jumble of buildings, one with its chimney gently smoking, and the crew of a boat unloading their cargo. As the river curves out of view we come to a peaceful landscape, with trees lining the horizon. The bright sun highlights the details of the buildings and the figure on horseback giving money to a beggar, and contrasts with patches of deep shadow that also guide us through the picture.

Like its companion painting, Buildings and Figures near a River with Rapids, this work was inspired by the Italian countryside, particularly the areas surrounding Michele Marieschi’s home city of Venice, where he spent most of his career.

Key facts
Artist Michele Marieschi
Artist dates 1710 - 1743
Full title Buildings and Figures near a River with Shipping
Series Two Fanciful Scenes
Date made 1735-43
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 60.7 x 91.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by the Misses Cohen as part of the John Samuel collection, 1906
Inventory number NG2102
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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