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Press Release

Canaletto: Celebrating Britain

Abbot Hall Art Gallery

22 October 2015 - 14 February 2016

Abbot Hall was built in the Palladian style just three years after Canaletto left England for the last

time. In 1746, by then in his late 40s, he first arrived for a prolonged stay in London. He was to

remain for most of the following 10 years.

Already a well established artist, his work had proved very popular with aristocratic Englishmen

doing their Grand Tour of Europe. In the 1720s, having started his career as a theatrical scene

painter, Canaletto started painting his distinctive views of Venice, frequently featuring the many

major churches designed for it by Palladio. One of his clients was Joseph Smith, an English

merchant banker who lived in Venice for 70 years, for 16 of which he was the British consul there.

Smith bought many Canaletto works for himself, and also helped arrange commissions from

wealthy English collectors – by the late 1720s his works were already in the collections of

Goodwood, Chatsworth, Woburn and of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Smith himself

owned by far the largest collection of works, including 52 oil paintings and over 140 drawings, which

he eventually sold to George III in 1762 for £10,000 – half the sum the latter paid the previous year

for Buckingham Palace.

Canaletto came to London as an indirect result of the War of the Austrian Succession, which started

in 1741. This had made continental travelling difficult for his wealthy English patrons, severely

reducing his income. He therefore decided to move himself to London, setting up his studio near

Golden Square. He arrived a month after Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil, and

at the beginning of a period of unprecedented domestic peace and prosperity, which saw London

turning into the worlds richest and largest city.

Although the bulk of the works with English subjects were of London scenes, with the Thames a

frequent presence, he was also a regular visitor to the countryside, often at the invitation of his rich

patrons, and painted several views of Warwick Castle, as well as of Alnwick, Badminton, Eton and


The rapid change of Londons architecture during his time here is also documented. In “The Old

Horse Guards from St James Park” of 1749, he caught the Horse Guards Parade ground, complete

with parading soldiers, as well as men peeing against the wall of Downing Street, and dozens of

people promenading, showing the artists interest in depicting scenes of daily life. Within a couple of

years, from almost exactly the same spot, he was back painting the new Horse Guards parade, the

September 2015

one that is still there today – it can be dated very precisely to 1752-3, as the clock tower still has

scaffolding on it, while the south wing had yet to be constructed.

Canaletto is often accused of depicting London whilst using bright Venetian lighting. However, in

both his pictures of the Horse Guards, the light is soft and diffused. In A View of Walton Bridge” the

sky is even more typically “English” – and un-Venetian – with the sun competing with storm clouds

brewing overhead. The picture also includes a portrait of Thomas Hollis, who commissioned 5 works

from Canaletto, as well as a rare self-portrait of the artist, shown painting the scene. The bridge was

regarded at the time as an advanced feat of engineering. The contrasting stately bulk of

Westminster Bridge and the views from it was evidently something that fascinated Canaletto, who

clearly would have agreed with Wordsworths later opinion that “earth hath not anything to show

more fair. The bridge was under construction during his time here, and he painted and sketched it

repeatedly. In one of the pictures generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal

Collection’, he frames a view of the Thames, St Paul’s and the City as if he had drawn the scene

from under one of the new arches of the bridge, while others show it still under construction.

It is easy to forget that Canaletto continued to paint Venetian scenes throughout his time in London.

Worked up from his sketches, or done from memory, these provided him with a significant

proportion of his income whilst in London, as his more conservative patrons demanded work that

they were familiar with, rather than venturing into the new views that the artist was confronting. For

example, his “Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day”, showing the state barge after the annual

“marriage” of Venice with the sea – which, when it sold for $20,000,000 in 2005, was briefly his most

expensive painting sold at auction - was painted in London in 1754.

Ruskin had a particular down on Canaletto. It is, however, unclear quite how familiar the ascerbic

critic was with genuine works by the Venetian. As a hugely popular artist, his work was widely forged

and copied both during his lifetime and afterwards. It is possible that Ruskin was sometimes writing

about Canaletto pupils and assistants, when he thought he was writing about Canaletto himself. In

“Notes on the Louvre”, writing about a picture of the Salute and the entrance to the Grand Canal, he

said that it is “cold and utterly lifeless – truth is made contemptible” and that “boats and water he

could not paint at all”. The picture has since been re-attributed to Canalettos pupil Michele

Marieschi. Similarly the “bad landscape” he saw in Turin is almost certainly a work by Bernardo

Bellotto, Canaletto’s nephew. Writing about Canalettos “vacancy and falsehood” in “Modern

Painters”, he refers to a painting in the Palazzo Manfrin – Augustus Hare, who visited it at about the

same time, noted that the palazzo “has a picture gallery which is open daily, but contains nothing

worth seeing, all the good pictures having been sold.” It is unclear which work Ruskin was referring

to when he said that Canalettos depiction of architecture was “less to be trusted in its renderings of

details than the rudest and most ignorant painter of the 13th century”. Certainly that is not the view of

most modern critics of most properly authenticated works by Canaletto, but Ruskin was never one

to allow the facts to affect his pet prejudices.



Press Images

High resolution copies of the following images are available to download on Dropbox:

All images are available at 300 dpi and approx. 15cm along the longest edge. Please contact us if

you require a larger image.

Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) 1697–1768

London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the



Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) 1697–1768

A View of Greenwich from the River


© Tate, London 2015

Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) 1697–1768

A Self-Portrait with St Pauls in the background at Anglesey

Abbey, Cambridgeshire


©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Inst/Chris Titmus

September 2015

Editors Notes

Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 5AL

Open Monday - Saturday, 10.30am - 5pm (4pm November - February)

Open Sundays throughout the exhibition, 12 - 4pm

Closed 24, 25, 26 December 2015 and 1 January 2016

Adult admission during Canaletto £9 (without donation £8.15), free entry for students and children

Abbot Hall Art Gallery, along with Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry, Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts

House and Windermere Jetty are managed by Lakeland Arts. (Registered charity no. 1153001).

The Royal Collection

The Royal Collection, one of the world's greatest art collections, is held in trust by The Queen for

her successors and the nation. The Collection is administered by the Royal Collection Trust, a

registered charity. The aims of the Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection and

the promotion of public access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and

educational activities. For more information visit

Lakeland Arts Press Office

Press visits, images and interviews contact:

Jeanette Edgar -

Chris Greenbank -

Telephone - 015394 46191