Sunday, February 05, 2012

Wallace Collection: Sketching Venice by Canaletto

After limbering up with Mr Bonington (see Wallace Collection: Sketching Venice by Bonington), I moved to the next gallery at the Wallace Collection and got to grips with a big painting of Venice by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, (1697 - 1768).

I had a lot to choose from!

Sketch of Venice: the Bacino di San Marco from San Giorgio Maggiore by Canaletto
11" x 16", pen and ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
Canaletto is one of those painters who I find is liable to induce blind panic due to the sheer size of some of his paintings and the amount of perspective involved.  I picked one of the less complicated ones!  The sketch is of Canaletto's painting Venice: the Bacino di San Marco from San Giorgio Maggiore and it can be found in the West Gallery on the first floor.

These are some of the other paintings in the West Gallery.  Besides works by Canaletto, it also includes a few paintings by Francesco Guardi (1712 - 1793) and some imitators of Canaletto.

Why sketch paintings in art galleries

One of the reasons I like sketching paintings in art museums and galleries is that it's one of the best ways I know of learning how a composition works, the real colours involved in the palette and the real tonal values of seemingly light or dark parts of a painting.

So with this one:
  • the horizon includes all the iconic buildings on that side of the basin and is below the centre line - although interestingly NOT on a third
  • the apex of the triangular quayside in the foreground is however on "a third"
  • the masts on the vessel in the centre of painting (and those of other ships) echo the strong vertical of the campanile on the right and are also echoed by the even taller mast on the left side (not included in my sketch - I ran out of time) which acts as a block and stops the eye straying out of the picture
  • the water and sky are both a lot darker than first appears.  The darker tonal values sit either side of sunlit buildings on the horizon
  • the boat coming in from the right persuades my eye to return to the centre of the painting
  • there's a few little touches of red around the painting which enliven and energise the green/blue of the water and the ochre/sienna of the ground
  • there's a lot more cream in the sky than I first realised - which warms the painting up.
  • the figures in the foreground represent different aspects of Venetian life
This is what the Wallace Collection website has to say about this painting.
One of a pair of unusually large views, depicting the Bacino di San Marco from opposing vantage points. Here the viewer is placed on the steps of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore looking across the Bacino di San Marco towards the Canale della Giudecca on the left, with the opening of the Grand Canal in the centre of the canvas, and the Campanile (bell-tower), the Piazzetta and the Doge’s palace on the right. It is an attractive, clearly identifiable view of a type calculated to appeal to the Grand Tourist, with picturesque elements of local colour reinforcing the idea of Venice as an exciting cosmopolitan centre.
Paintings from the past are also a jolly good way of finding "views" of a place or what I call places to paint in The Art of the Landscape.  This particular one is a classic and quite possibly overdone view of Venice - but it's certainly one which presents a challenge.

This is the location of the view in Venice.  The painting is of the view from the island of San Giorgio Maggiore - looking northwest to the buildings either side of the Grand Canal - from Santa Maria della Salute in the west to the waterfront buildings of the SanMarco Sestieri in the middle and the east.

Wallace Collection:


  1. Gorgeous colors! And a nice match for your website colors too! And thanks for activating the Name/URL option. Hope it doesn't lead to more spam for you to deal with.

  2. Brava, Katherine. That's really beautiful.

  3. Thank you for such a beautiful sketch and a very instructive post.

  4. Fabulous sketch. Thank you for the compositional focus, just reading your writing (without drawing it myself) has helped show me how he did it.


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