If ever there was an exhibition to make you swoon, it’s this one: over 200 paintings, drawings and prints from the Royal Collection, on display in the majestic Queen’s Gallery in Canaletto and the Art of Venice. The Italian master is in excellent company, surrounded by his contemporaries Francesco Zuccarelli, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and Pietro Longhi.
Venice in the 18th century was no longer a trading and military superpower and had morphed into the world’s most beautiful and seductive tourist trap. It was the required stopover on the Grand Tour, in particular for men of the British upper class. Canaletto’s paintings were the postcards used to entice these men to Venice or, once home, to serve a souvenir of their debauched stopover in this most beguiling city.
Giovanni Antonio Canal (known as Canaletto) was the son of a theatrical and operatic scene painter who taught his son the art of painting stage backdrops. It wasn’t long before ‘Little Canal’ started painting the cityscapes (or ‘vedute’) for which he would become globally famous. During the 1730s, Canaletto was producing paintings at factory-speed in order to meet the foreign demands for Venetian view souvenirs. The outbreak of the War of Austrian Succession in 1740 severely reduced the number of visitors to Venice, and he turned to producing etchings of Rome and the surrounding area for local collectors. He moved to London’s Soho at the age of 49 where he painted 48 views of the capital.
Known as Consul Smith (he was appointed British Consul in 1744), he was Canaletto’s agent and the city’s greatest patron of the arts. Smith was married to soprano Catherine Tofts, the first prima donna in London. He lived in Palazzo Balbi on the Grand Canal, which is still standing. In 1762, he eventually sold most of his art collection to George III for his adornment of Buckingham House (later to become Buckingham Palace). The exhibition has been laid out to mirror the hanging of Smith’s paintings in Palazzo Balbi.
Canaletto and the Art of Venice is on at the Queen’s Gallery from 19 May to 12 November 2017.
Tickets from £5.50 to £11.00. Under 5s go free. You can book your tickets here.
Canaletto and the Art of Venice will be broadcast from cinemas around the world on 26 September. The film will include interviews with the curators and behind-the-scene footage.
About the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA Nearest tube: Victoria
Opening Times: Daily: 10.00 – 17.30 (from 22 July opens at 09.30)