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Venice in Pictures

I first fell in love with Venice on a hot, humid August day. I stumbled off the train with my rucksack and followed the noisy crowds as they chattered and bantered in at least a dozen languages. A short trip by vaporetto later, and I was there, in the heart of it. Venice. My eyes feasted on the fine old Renaissance buildings with their crumbling facades appearing out of the waves like a vast architectural coral reef. Their very foundations seemed rooted in the fathomless slime green waterways where long black gondolas and snazzy little motor launches wove intricate routes through canals of labyrinthine complexity. The shuttered windows concealed tall, dark, rooms where whole centuries might pass with little changing. History stalked the narrow alleys and canals, cloaked in mystery, and hiding behind a carnival mask. I couldn’t help but fall in love.

This timeless jewel of a city is a place where dreams and schemes melt and meld, and vanish slippery as a mermaid’s tail fin, into the oily depths, only to re-emerge in new disguises around the next corner. It is a place for statesmen and artisans, sailors and churchmen, writers and artists. Beautiful and intriguing, Venice charms the senses and fires the imagination.

Turner’s Venetian love affair

In 2006, a painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner sold for a staggering £20million, a world record for a British artist. It was just another of his many portraits of Venice, the city which he visited on three separate painting expeditions, and drew on for inspiration repeatedly throughout his long artistic career.

Turner was a master painter of light and atmosphere, and Venice was the ideal subject matter. The painting shown above, (not the £20 million painting!) an oil on canvas, was completed in 1837 and can be found in the Huntingdon Library Art Collection in San Marino, California.

Light and Atmosphere

Turner was also a master watercolourist, and his style of painting was particularly suited to depicting Venice. Turner’s oils are great, but I love his jewel bright water-colours far more. This painting of the Grand Canal just shimmers with light.

What are they up to on Venice Lagoon?

I’d love to tell you what this picture is all about, but sadly I don’t know. I’ve included it because it’s quite good fun, and makes a change from the sweeping grandeur of most Venetian painting. The youngsters are obviously up to something here. Are they raiding a nesting box, or rescuing someone whose boat has sunk? The title gives us no clues, and if you know the answer please leave a comment below the hub so that I can post it here!

A Pointillist’s View of Venice

This fantastic image of Venice was painted in 1904 by Paul Signac, and can be found in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. Signac studied the work of Georges Seurat as a young artist, and became fascinated with Pointillism and the science behind it. Pointillism uses small dabs of broken colour rather than sweeping brushstrokes, and colours are chosen to harmonize and enhance each other in a very specific way. I love the way the colours work together in ‘The Green Sail’.

Ahead of His Time, a Life Cut Short by TB

Richard Parkes Bonington completed this painting in 1828 shortly before his tragically early death aged only 25. The colours, and treatment of the painting as well as the dramatic composition would all suggest the work of a much later artist. Bonington left quite a large body of work considering his limited career span. We can only guess how his work might have developed if he’d lived longer.

A Canadian in Paris

Canadian artist Maurice Cullen (1866-1934) was born in Newfoundland, and became famous for his impressionistic paintings of Quebec. During his early twenties, Cullen visited Europe, and studied the work of the Impressionists in Paris. This painting shows the Customs Port in Venice, and was completed in 1901.

A Renaissance Venetian

Vittore Carpaccio was born in Venice, into a family of leather merchants. Only sketchy details of his life are available to us, but we do know that his major works were completed between 1490 and 1519, and he is considered to be one of the early masters of the Venetian Renaissance. One of the earliest mentions of Carpaccio is in his uncle, Fra Ilario’s will, dated 1472, but very few other clues about his life now remain. He was a pupil in the atelier of Venetian artist Lazzaro Bastiano, and became a major painter of historical and religious subjects.

This detail is from one of Carpaccio’s large history paintings, and shows gondoliers on the waterways. I particularly like the little white dog in the foreground boat.

Whistler’s year in Venice


In September 1879, James McNeill Whistler, left London, and headed for Venice with sixteen copper plates. His original intention was to spend three months preparing etchings of Venetian scenes. He expected to return to England in December of that year, but he found Venice so enchanting, that he delayed his journey home by more than a year. When he did finally return to London in November 1880 he brought back about fifty etched copper plates and a large number of sketches and studies of Venice.

Whistler exlored the length and breadth of the city, seeking out unusual views and compositions. His Venetian etchings are as varied and different as the city itself. The preparatory sketch shown above, gives a clue as to his method of working, and although not a finished piece, is still, nonetheless, a pleasing work of art. 

Paris Bordone – a Renaissance Master

Paris Bordone was born at Treviso, but moved to Venice as a teenager to take up an apprenticeship with Titian. However, this did not prove to be a successful arrangement, and Bordone was soon taking on commissions in his own right.

Works by Bordone dating from the 1520s onwards are to be found in many cities, including Florence, Glasgow, and Moscow. In 1534-5, he painted the large-scale masterpiece for the Scuola di San Marco a canvas of the Fisherman delivering the Marriage Ring of Venice to the Doge (Accademia). and this is shown above.


An American in Europe

John Singer Sargent was born on January 12th, 1856, in Florence, Italy, and died in 1925 in London, England. His parents were American, but throughout his childhood, the family lived an intinerant life, travelling around Europe and existing on a small inheritance and a private income. Singer Sargent is renowned as a portrait painter, and as such, he earned a very handsome living, but his informal back-street paintings of Venice have a completely different flavour to the grand, formally posed portraits that provided his day to day living.

This deliciously loose painting captures a moment in a young girl’s life. She is walking down an alley in Venice. Tall, shuttered buildings tower above her providing shade from the relentless Venetian sun. Her hands clasped in front of her, and her eyes downcast, she appears lost in thought. Who is she, and where is she going? It is a secretive, melancholy painting of a transitory moment on a quiet street.

Monet’s Venetian vacation

The 37 canvases Monet painted during his only visit to Venice, in the autumn of 1908, are some of the most popular and the best known of his paintings. The great man was 68 when he arrived in Venice with his wife Alice. He sent his painting gear on ahead of him, and when they arrived, they stayed at the Barbero Palace on the Grand Canal.

From the moment he saw Venice, Monet felt the urge to paint. All of his Venetian works are of traditional views. They are a record in paint, of the trip of a lifetime for this elderly French couple. Photographs survive of the two of them surrounded by pigeons in St Marks Square. They look delighted to be there.

Blue and Gold

The Grand Canal is bathed in traditional Monet colours here. Whilst the posts in the foreground emerge from the water vivid and golden, the canal itself, and the buildings beyond are as mellow and harmonious as Monet’s paintings of water-lilies at Giverny.

Souvenirs of Venice

British art galleries, museums and stately homes have an astonishing number of Canalettos on display. The painstaking attention to detail in each and everyone of these paintings of Venice gives an almost photographic representation, and yet Signor Canaletto must have turned out literally thousands of them, and all to this high standard. Judging by the number of them in circulation, it would seem that no Grand Tour would be complete without a Canaletto to take home.

Canaletto’s father was the painter Bernardo Canal, and to distinguish between them, the younger artist adopted the name Canaletto (“little Canal”). His nephew and pupil Bernardo Bellotto, was also a talented landscape painter, with a similar painting style. Bellotto often used the name Canaletto himself, as this enabled him to capitalise on his uncle’s fame, and this perhaps goes some way towards explaining the sheer numbers of Canalettos on display in Europe.

Martin Rico, Traveller and Artist

Spanish artist Martin Rico (1833-1908) initially studied under his brother, the engraver Bernardino Rico (1825–94), before enrolling at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid where he became a pupil of Jenaro Pérez Villaamil. In 1862, he was granted a bursary to study in Paris, and was greatly influenced by the paintings of the Barbizon school of artists in general, and Charles-François daubigny in particular. Rico travelled around Europe a great deal in his career, and also visited Britain, where he was delighted to see paintings by Turner. Eventually he settled in Venice, which he maintained as his base for more than 30 years, producing many Venetian scenes such as the one shown above.

Eduardo Dalbono, Neopolitan Artist

Son of the literary scholar and art critic Carlo Dalbono (1817-80), Eduardo was born in Naples in 1841. He studied art under Guiseppe Mancinelli and Domenico Morelli at the Accademia in Naples, and graduated from there to become a painter of landscapes and historical scenes.

This fine study of boats in the Venetian Port employs a pallet of mainly pink and blue to great effect. The boats seem to sail straight out of the mist, and Venice can only be distantly seen as a cluster of sketchily painted buildings on the horizon.

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