21 September 2015

Canaletto at the Holburne, Bath

It is difficult to imagine anyone taking a strong dislike to the art of Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768). Representational certainly, camera obscura produced even, nonetheless it provides an invaluable, almost photographic, record of the Europe of nearly 300 years ago. From 1746, when he was invited by the Duke of Northumberland to record the construction of the new Westminster Bridge, to 1755, Canaletto painted English scenes, mostly in London. Canaletto Celebrating Britain, now at the Holburne Museum, Bath after a first showing at Compton Verney, brings together major works from his time here.

The son of the painter Bernardo Canal, and hence known as Canaletto, was born into a townscape shaped by architects like Andrea Palladio (1508-80). So starting the show with a reminder of Canaletto's Venice and two fine canvases from Manchester of about 1740, Church of the Redentore (below) and Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, seems wholly appropriate.

Canaletto's Britain then follows, starting with two of Compton Verney's own scenes of the London pleasure gardens of the day, The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh, London (1754) and The Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens, London (c1751, below):

followed by Dulwich Picture Gallery's View of Walton Bridge (c1754, poster above) and the Royal Collection's two Views from the Terrace of Somerset House (1750-51) of the City and of Westminster (below):

The Old Horse Guards from St James' Park (c1749, below) is complemented by the rarely shown c1752 view of the New Horse Guards.

Canaletto's paintings are large so there is an inevitable loss of detail in small scale reproductions. A close look at the originals reveals some pleasing features, for example the coach and horses going over Walton Bridge and the carpet beaters at work near Horse Guards:

And they invariably flatter the English climate by making it resemble the Italian spring of an aristocrat's Grand Tour.

Finally, Canaletto's legacy is demonstrated in works by Samuel Scott - An Arch of Westminster Bridge (c1751, below):

 and William Marlow's dramatic and imaginary fusion of London and Venice, Capriccio: St Paul's Cathedral and a Venetian Canal (c1795, below):

Although the construction of Georgian Bath in the Palladian style had begun in the early 1700s and the Circus was under construction at the time he left England, sadly for us Canaletto does not seem to have had the opportunity to paint in the fashionable spa.

Canaletto Celebrating Britain ends in Bath on 4 October and will be at Abbot Hall, Kendal from 22 October to 13 February 2016.

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