A new exhibition at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
reunites two of Canaletto's finest sets of paintings, displayed side by side for the first time in almost 40 years. Canaletto & the Art of Venice, shows six views of Venice produced early in the artist's career in the 1720s, alongside the painter's series of five Roman views from over 20 years later. Both sets were commissioned from Canaletto by Joseph Smith, the artist's agent and the greatest patron of art in Venice at the time. Smith's collection was bought almost in its entirety by George III in 1762 to furnish the newly purchased Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace).
Smith probably intended both series of paintings to decorate particular rooms in his palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. Six drawings relating to the Venetian views, also in the exhibition, are likely to have been the basis of initial discussions between patron and artist. Smith commissioned works from Canaletto not only to add to his own collection, but also to advertise Canaletto's skills to the wealthy British who visited his home.
The son of a leading theatrical scene-painter, Canaletto followed the family trade. As a youth he had travelled with his father to Rome to paint opera scenery, but abandoned the theatre to paint and draw the city’s classical ruins. Rome was the high point of the Grand Tour of the European continent, and Canaletto's views include some of the sites most popular among English Grand Tourists.
Canaletto's most famous views of the Grand Canal are also shown in the exhibition. These 12 precise and powerfully real paintings, executed over several years in the late 1720s, create a near-complete journey down the waterway. From the quayside houses and workshops on the Grand Canal’s upper reaches to the bustling festivities around St Mark’s Square, he brilliantly captures the effects of light on stone and water, and fills each work with a snapshot of Venetian daily life. Canaletto returned frequently to the subject of the Grand Canal, including in a series of six meticulously detailed pen and ink drawings.
Rosalba Carriera, whose pastels were highly prized by European collectors, was one of the first artists to develop a commercial relationship with Joseph Smith. On display together for the first time are Carriera's personifications of the Four Seasons. Winter, c.1726, a female figure wrapped in furs, was one of the most admired works in Smith's collection and later hung in George III's bedchamber at Buckingham House alongside Carriera's pastel Summer.
Drawn entirely from the Royal Collection, Canaletto & the Art of Venice presents one of the most important collections of 18th-century Venetian art in the world. Through over 200 paintings, drawings and prints, the exhibition explores how artists captured the allure of this thriving city, from its burgeoning theatre and opera scene to the grand public entertainments and religious spectacles.
On 26 September 2017, Exhibition on Screen will broadcast a documentary film of Canaletto & the Art of Venice in cinemas around the world. This first feature-length film of an exhibition from the Royal Collection includes interviews with Royal Collection Trust curators and behind-the-scenes footage of preparations for the exhibition.