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Chapter IV: London Paintings

Because of the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), which became especially threatening in north Italy in 1745 and 1746, Canaletto traveled to his patrons in London in the spring of 1746 and he stayed in England for almost ten years.[1] When he first arrived, he painted scenes of the Westminster Bridge. For the Duke of Northumberland, he painted London: Seen through an Arch of Westminster Bridge (fig. 13), a work that was likely of particular importance to the Duke who was overseeing the project of constructing the new bridge at the time.[2] This striking composition is highlighted by the dynamic relationship between curvilinear and horizontal lines. The structure of the semi-circular arch frames the view of London, which is highlighted by the overwhelmingly large yellowish-blue sky. Instead of using his traditional bright blue, sunny hues to depict the sky, he has chosen colors that represent dusk or dawn. The bridge is positioned at an angle, so that it creates depth and does not act as a barrier between the viewer and the Thames.[3] It is placed slightly off-center, so that more of the bridge to the left is included. A bucket hanging at the right helps to balance this out and add more linear interest. Through the bridge, the viewer can see the top of the church of Saint Clement Danes in the center, Saint Paul’s Cathedral toward the right, and the Water Tower and York Water Gate at the left.[4] Although the subject is London, Canaletto has given the picture a number of Venetian qualities. First of all, he has positioned himself on the river, just as he frequently positioned himself on the canals of Venice, so that the water plays a fundamental role in the composition. As is the case in many of his Venetian scenes, the sky occupies more than two-thirds of the canvas. In addition, the buildings are painted with the same kind of precision and attention to architectural detail, while the figures add life to the scene. The one unusual feature is the huge arch of the bridge, through which the viewer sees all of London, a new kind of viewpoint that would have impressed Canaletto’s British contemporaries.

In 1747, Canaletto painted London: Whitehall and the Privy Garden from Richmond House (Fig. 14) for Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond.[5] The Duke is shown here with one of his servants in the lower right-hand corner, claiming both patronage of the work and ownership of the scene, which depicts part of his land in London. This picture has become one of the most highly acclaimed paintings that Canaletto completed while in England.[6] The composition itself is highly geometric. It is clear that his artistic style in London was beginning to evolve with rational undertones and crisp lines. The perspective that he chose creates a convenient line on which the buildings rest in an orderly fashion. Everything is directed toward the center plane, as if he were trying to create order out of the mass of buildings and people making their way through the space.[7] Each person and building is exquisitely finished, with even the most minute detail included. This, along with the bright blue sky covering the upper half of the work, remain characteristic of Canaletto.

In 1754, Thomas Hollis, a philosopher and author who was one of Canaletto’s best friends in England, commissioned Canaletto to paint Old Walton Bridge (Fig. 15).[8] He paints the bridge off to the right of the picture in bright white against the gray cloud hovering overhead. The river fills most of the foreground, together with a boat that is having its mast lowered so that it can pass under the bridge. A seated man in the foreground resembles the artist in Rome: the Arch of Constantine (Fig. 11), perhaps Canaletto himself. Thomas Hollis is depicted with his friend Thomas Brand, his Italian servant Francesco Giovannini, and Hollis’ pet dog Malta on the riverbank, with Hollis wearing the bright yellow coat that makes him stand out.[9] They, along with several other figures, enliven the foreground, and many more are seen across the river. Samuel Dicker, a member of Parliament, paid for the bridge in 1747 and his house can be seen across the bridge in the painting.[10] The composition overall continues Canaletto’s desire for geometric harmony. The unusual structure of the bridge, with its many intersecting pieces of wood, is balanced by the details on the left, including geese in the river, the boat passing through, and a cluster of trees. The sky is vividly represented and comprises about half of the picture, a constant characteristic of the artist’s work.

While he was in England, Canaletto began to invent landscapes and combine elements from different sources with greater confidence. What was real and what was imagined in his work became much more obvious. With representations like Capriccio: River Landscape with a Ruin and Reminiscences of England  (Fig. 16) and its companion Capriccio: River Landscape with a Column, a Ruined Roman Arch, and Reminiscences of England of about 1754 (Fig. 17), for example, he truly assimilated two worlds into one.[11] In both paintings, Canaletto creates a scene that combines the modern British countryside with buildings, ruins, and monuments that come from ancient and modern Italy.[12] Known as the Lovelace Canalettos because they were sold by the Earl of Lovelace in 1937, these were most likely commissioned by the 5th Lord King of Surrey.[13] It is said that when the second painting was completed, Canaletto placed an advertisement in the newspaper announcing that he was holding an exhibition in his London home, partly for publicity and partly to prove he was the real Canaletto. (In Venice at the time, his nephew Bernardo Bellotto was calling himself “Canaletto” and was producing views that were similar to his uncle’s in style.[14]) Because of the way Canaletto had combined so completely two different worlds in one composition, the painting attracted much attention, and for good reason. In the foreground, there is a tall Corinthian column with a saint on the top. In the middle ground toward the left, there is a triumphal arch that could have been inspired by any number of architectural monuments in Rome. Also in the middle ground toward the right and behind the column is an aqueduct-like bridge that resembles Westminster Bridge.[15] In some ways it appears that the background is split by the two worlds. On the left-hand side, the vegetation, greenery, and hilly landscape resemble a scene that can be found in England. Off to the right, even farther back in the composition, the cityscape appears to be Italian-inspired, with a prominent dome protruding upward. Trees on either side delicately frame the painting, and the sky, moving from a peachy tone to bright blue in the upper right-hand corner, has the tonalities that are often found in Canaletto’s own creations. Some unusual features of these two paintings and of other works produced by Canaletto in England are the rather smooth handling of the landscape and the generalization figures that look like blotches of color. This is a new style in Canaletto’s work, very different from the highly detailed and individualized figures that appear in the paintings he had made before that time.[16] With this shift in style Canaletto may have been catering to the specific tastes of his clients or may have been thinking about how these works were going to be displayed.  If they were only going to be seen from a distance, they did not have to be as carefully painted as they would have to have been if they were going to be seen close up.  In any case, this bold style is a characteristic of some of the paintings Canaletto made while he was in England.



[1]             K. T. Parker, The Drawings of Antonio Canaletto in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1948), 16.

[2]             Christopher Baker, Canaletto (London: Phaidon, 1994): 88.

[3]             William George Constable, “Canaletto in England: Some Further Works,” The Burlington Magazine (January 1927): 19.

[4]             Ibid.

[5]             Tancred Borenius, “A Canaletto Curiosity,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (September 1921): 110.

[6]             Christopher Baker, Canaletto (London: Phaidon, 1994): 88.

[7]             Ibid., 90.

[8]             William George Constable, “Canaletto in England: Some Further Works,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (January 1927): 19.

[9]             Christopher Baker, Canaletto (London: Phaidon, 1994): 110.

[10]             Ibid.

[11]             J. G. Links, Canaletto (New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 1994), 114.

[12]             William George Constable, “A Canaletto Capriccio,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (January 1927): 83.

[13]             Ibid., 84.

[14]             Decio Gioseffi, Canaletto and his Contemporaries (New York: Crown Publishers, 1960), 76.

[15]             J. G. Links, Canaletto (New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 1994), 114.

[16]             Tancred Borenius, “A Canaletto Curiosity,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (September 1921): 113.

In 1747, Canaletto painted London: Whitehall and the Privy Garden from Richmond House (Fig. 15) for Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond.[5] The Duke is shown here with one of his servants in the lower right-hand corner, claiming both patronage of the work and ownership of the scene, which depicts part of his land in London. This picture has become one of the most highly acclaimed paintings that Canaletto completed while in England.[6] The composition itself is highly geometric. It is clear that his artistic style in London was beginning to evolve with rational undertones and crisp lines. The perspective that he chose creates a convenient line on which the buildings rest in an orderly fashion. Everything is directed toward the center plane, as if he were trying to create order out of the mass of buildings and people making their way through the space.[7] Each person and building is exquisitely finished, with even the most minute detail included. This, along with the bright blue sky covering the upper half of the work, remain characteristic of Canaletto.

In 1754, Thomas Hollis, a philosopher and author who was one of Canaletto’s best friends in England, commissioned Canaletto to paint Old Walton Bridge (Fig. 16).[8] He paints the bridge off to the right of the picture in bright white against the gray cloud hovering overhead. The river fills most of the foreground, together with a boat that is having its mast lowered so that it can pass under the bridge. A seated man in the foreground resembles the artist in Rome: the Arch of Constantine (Fig. 11), perhaps Canaletto himself. Thomas Hollis is depicted with his friend Thomas Brand, his Italian servant Francesco Giovannini, and Hollis’ pet dog Malta on the riverbank, with Hollis wearing the bright yellow coat that makes him stand out.[9] They, along with several other figures, enliven the foreground, and many more are seen across the river. Samuel Dicker, a member of Parliament, paid for the bridge in 1747 and his house can be seen across the bridge in the painting.[10] The composition overall continues Canaletto’s desire for geometric harmony. The unusual structure of the bridge, with its many intersecting pieces of wood, is balanced by the details on the left, including geese in the river, the boat passing through, and a cluster of trees. The sky is vividly represented and comprises about half of the picture, a constant characteristic of the artist’s work.

While he was in England, Canaletto began to invent landscapes and combine elements from different sources with greater confidence. What was real and what was imagined in his work became much more obvious. With representations like Capriccio: River Landscape with a Ruin and Reminiscences of England  (Fig. 17) and its companion Capriccio: River Landscape with a Column, a Ruined Roman Arch, and Reminiscences of England of about 1754 (Fig. 18), for example, he truly assimilated two worlds into one.[11] In both paintings, Canaletto creates a scene that combines the modern British countryside with buildings, ruins, and monuments that come from ancient and modern Italy.[12] Known as the Lovelace Canalettos because they were sold by the Earl of Lovelace in 1937, these were most likely commissioned by the 5th Lord King of Surrey.[13] It is said that when the second painting was completed, Canaletto placed an advertisement in the newspaper announcing that he was holding an exhibition in his London home, partly for publicity and partly to prove he was the real Canaletto. (In Venice at the time, his nephew Bernardo Bellotto was calling himself “Canaletto” and was producing views that were similar to his uncle’s in style.[14]) Because of the way Canaletto had combined so completely two different worlds in one composition, the painting attracted much attention, and for good reason. In the foreground, there is a tall Corinthian column with a saint on the top. In the middle ground toward the left, there is a triumphal arch that could have been inspired by any number of architectural monuments in Rome. Also in the middle ground toward the right and behind the column is an aqueduct-like bridge that resembles Westminster Bridge.[15] In some ways it appears that the background is split by the two worlds. On the left-hand side, the vegetation, greenery, and hilly landscape resemble a scene that can be found in England. Off to the right, even farther back in the composition, the cityscape appears to be Italian-inspired, with a prominent dome protruding upward. Trees on either side delicately frame the painting, and the sky, moving from a peachy tone to bright blue in the upper right-hand corner, has the tonalities that are often found in Canaletto’s own creations. Some unusual features of these two paintings and of other works produced by Canaletto in England are the rather smooth handling of the landscape and the generalization figures that look like blotches of color. This is a new style in Canaletto’s work, very different from the highly detailed and individualized figures that appear in the paintings he had made before that time.[16] With this shift in style Canaletto may have been catering to the specific tastes of his clients or may have been thinking about how these works were going to be displayed.  If they were only going to be seen from a distance, they did not have to be as carefully painted as they would have to have been if they were going to be seen close up.  In any case, this bold style is a characteristic of some of the paintings Canaletto made while he was in England.



[1]             K. T. Parker, The Drawings of Antonio Canaletto in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1948), 16.

[2]             Christopher Baker, Canaletto (London: Phaidon, 1994): 88.

[3]             William George Constable, “Canaletto in England: Some Further Works,” The Burlington Magazine (January 1927): 19.

[4]             Ibid.

[5]             Tancred Borenius, “A Canaletto Curiosity,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (September 1921): 110.

[6]             Christopher Baker, Canaletto (London: Phaidon, 1994): 88.

[7]             Ibid., 90.

[8]             William George Constable, “Canaletto in England: Some Further Works,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (January 1927): 19.

[9]             Christopher Baker, Canaletto (London: Phaidon, 1994): 110.

[10]             Ibid.

[11]             J. G. Links, Canaletto (New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 1994), 114.

[12]             William George Constable, “A Canaletto Capriccio,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (January 1927): 83.

[13]             Ibid., 84.

[14]             Decio Gioseffi, Canaletto and his Contemporaries (New York: Crown Publishers, 1960), 76.

[15]             J. G. Links, Canaletto (New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 1994), 114.

[16]             Tancred Borenius, “A Canaletto Curiosity,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (September 1921): 113.