Painting of Venice: an obvious home for art and artists
HISTORY OF ART • FAMOUS PAINTINGS OF VENICE
When Renoir first visited Venice in 1881, he was drawn to the façade of the Doge’s Palace, known to be a popular view among artists. He joked that “there were at least six of us queuing up to paint it.”
In the 18th century, Venice became renowned as the centre of ‘vedute’, meaning ‘view-paintings’ in Italian. This type of technique is classified as accurate and highly-detailed paintings of cityscapes that are usually created on a large-scale.
The genre’s greatest masters are Canaletto and Guardi. They sold their realistic scenes of Venice’s architecture and canals throughout Europe. The city has continued to be an inspiring subject matter to artists ever since, from J.M. William Turner to Monet or Renoir. Apparently selling paintings of Venice was also very lucrative!
Monet first visited Venice in 1908, relatively late in his career. He travelled there with his second wife, Alice, and stayed there for about 10 weeks. He created 37 canvases of the city’s architectural landmarks. He painted the iconic Gothic facade of Doge Palace, the Baroque Church of Santa aria della Salute and non classical San Giorgio Maggiore.
Unsurprisingly, for an artist who had been painting water his whole career, the city’s canals dominate the bottom half of each canvas.
Monet had said that he would never go to Venice because it was one of the most painted cities in the world, but after a few weeks of his arrival he was already planning another trip to come back. He felt during this relatively short stay that he could not work seriously, and considered his first paintings as a way to hold on to his memories of the city.
Renoir painted the same places which other painters painted in Venice: Venetian famous sites. His painting named “Gondola” is the closest to a genre scene. One of the few anecdotes Renoir told about his time in Venice is that of his friend Charles Deudon saying that he wanted to paint more figures in Venice but he had trouble finding models. He saw one girl and thought she was as “Beautiful as Madonna”. His gondolier told Renoir that he knows her, and “he hugged him with joy” apparently. But later Renoir found the model to be too self-conscious. He said “to get someone pose well, you have to be very good friends and above all, speak the language.”
Joseph Mallord William Turner
William Turner visited Venice three times, in 1819, 1833, and in 1840, spending a combined total of just under one month there.
One of John Ruskin’s favourite paintings by William Turner is the ‘Sun of Venice Going to See’ one of his latest paintings of Venice, created in 1843. The Sun of Venice is a sailing ship which is shown moving across water as dawn breaks over Venice behind it. The art critic John Ruskin believed that Turner would "constantly express an extreme beauty where he meant that there was most threatening and ultimate sorrow."
The poem that Turner adapted to accompany his painting proves Ruskin’s observation:
Fair shines the morn, and soft the zephyrs blow,
Venezia's fisher spreads his painted sail so gay,
Nor heeds the demon that in grim repose
Expects his evening prey.
Implying that the boat may seem a symbol of hope, but its occupants are blissfully unaware that they face shipwreck ahead.
Canaletto, the great master of vedute of Venice. His success came from being able to paint Venetian scenes with great precision and reality through his own ideal version and poetic touch. When he started to paint his great view-painting of Venice, Canaletto met with British patron and art collector Joseph Smith in early 1720s; the two quickly developed a very strong business relationship that lasted until the end of Canaletto’s life.
In the 18th century, Venice was visited by tourists very often and they all wanted to take a piece of Canaletto’s paintings with them as a souvenir. Joseph Smith would arrange for visitors to come to his palace where he would display Canaletto’s final collection for them to choose from. Many ordered their own versions of these view-paintings and Canaletto was in such demand that he was swamped with these bespoke orders. Smith provided much assistance to the artist by acting like his agent and by negotiating commissions, prices, framing, and shipping the paintings.
By the 1750s, Joseph Smith was an old man so he offered his library and art collection to King George III through the king’s agents and advisors in Italy. In 1762 the sale was finalised and King George bought 50 paintings by Canaletto which still remains a central treasure of the royal collection today.
The Grand Canal of Venice, also known as Blue Venice, is regarded as Manet’s most dashingly Impressionist artworks of his life.
Manet completed the Grand Canal of Venice during a trip to Venice in 1875. He is known to have experienced difficulties and dissatisfaction in the beginning of this painting. “He was thoroughly discouraged and depressed at his inability to paint anything to satisfaction”, said another impressionist artist Mary Cassatt. Although artists were generally inspired by the watery splendour of Venetian canals, Manet had the most difficulty in this area. But later he managed to create a result that was praised globally by employing brighter blue colours and broken brush strokes to depict flowing water.