This Italian city’s distinct architecture with its water canals has captivated artist for centuries.
The intricate network of canals ensures that water is a constant presence throughout the city. Magnifying its atmosphere, light can be seen shining between buildings or at the end of a narrow street, bouncing off the water’s surface and causing reflections to dance along walls or on the undersides of bridges.
Artists like Canaletto, Turner, Moran, Sargent, Manet, Cross and Henri Le Sidaner responded in their own unique styles to this enchanting city.
An important centre of maritime trade the Venetian-born painter Canaletto, popularised many of the key painterly vistas of the city in his exquisitely rendered vedute, recording the cityscape with a precision and clarity.
He produced a rich group of pencil studies, watercolours and oil painting portraying the unique atmosphere of the lagoon — the blend of mist and fog that crept in and blanketed the city blurring the lines of the buildings, monuments and gondolas as they moved through the water.
Influenced by Turner, Moran, selecting a similar view to the artist’s Bridge of Sighs, Ducal Palace and Custom House Venice: Canaletti Painting (circa 1833, Tate Britain, London), infusing the scene with his own subtle approach to colour and virtuosic handling of paint.
The experience of gliding through the city’s intricate network of canals and waterways aboard a gondola, offers a fascinating perspective on Venice. ‘One way of looking at such facades is from a gondola,” wrote Joseph Brodsky, as quoted in Watermark (2013), ‘this way you can see what the water sees…’ It was this alternate perspective on Venice that sparked Edouard Manet’s imagination most, providing the artist with inspiration for a pair of canvases during his visit to Venice in 1874. This was the artist’s second and final sojourn in the city. Seen from the level of the water, Manet vividly captures the sensation of travelling through the city by boat in Le Grand Canal à Venise.
Similarly, John Singer Sargent often worked from the bow of a gondola, focusing his eye on the local play of life that filled the streets in quieter stretches of the city. In his exquisite watercolour, The Façade of La Salute from 1903, Sargent conveys a dynamic sense of the congestion that could strike within Venice’s waterways.