If the view was scenic, his paintings beautified it even further. It was as though the buildings spoke to us in his paintings. He was Giovanni Antonio Canal, also known as Canaletto. Canal was an Italian painter hailing from the Republic of Venice. Canal was born in Venice on October 28, 1697, to Bernardo Canal and Artemisia Barbieri. Bernardo Canal, his father, was a theatrical scene painter.
Naturally watching his father’s works attracted Antonio Canal towards the field of art. As he grew up, he commenced his apprenticeship with his father and his brother and began in his father’s occupation. Elsewhere in Rome, Giovanni Paolo Panini was earning fame for his paintings, mainly of the vistas of Rome.
As destiny could have it, Canal happened to come across the works of Panini and was immediately drawn towards it. Having found his inspiration, Canal started painting the daily life of the city and its citizens.
After a lot of experiments with the subjects of his paintings, he discovered that his strength was the topographical style of paintings. Giovanni Antonio Canal’s early artwork was mainly inspired ‘from nature’, contrary to the usual practice of paintings being done inside a studio at that point of time. Some believe that Canal used—a Camera obscura—for many of his works.
This is believed so because of the distant figures and objects being rendered as blobs of colours. Nevertheless, many other art historians argue that Canal never actually used one. ‘Vedute’ was his forte even though he painted many imaginary views as well, known as ‘Capriccio’.
After a few years, Canaletto painted magnificent scenes of Venice’s canals and the Doge’s Palace. These were art pieces which were highly in demand by art collectors during that time. His vedute portrayed the city’s splendour and dwindling traditions, making ingenious use of the effects of atmosphere as well as the vigorous and bold local colours.
Giovanni Antonio Canal is mostly said to have used the ‘Impressionism’ style for these attributes to be achieved. Impressionism is an art movement, having set its roots in the 19th century, identified by comparatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, prioritizing the explicit rendition of light in its varying qualities, mundane subject matters, involving ‘movement’ as a pivotal element of human perception and experience, and atypical visual point of views.
Later Works in England
Giovanni Antonio Canal’s works were constantly being sold to Englishmen who visited his city, Venice. In the 1740s, his numbers were disturbed by the War of the Austrian Succession. Aftermath, the footfall of British visitors to Venice reduced drastically.
To improve the numbers, Canal moved to London and stayed there for the next three years. There, he produced paintings of London city and of Patron’s homes and castles. But soon, he began to suffer from repetitiveness and boredom from paintings with very similar views.
At one point in time, as Giovanni Antonio Canal was losing the original charm and fluidity in his paintings, the English art critic George Vertue propounded that the person who was painting under the name ‘Canaletto’ was an impersonator.
This might have most likely been the case since Canal’s nephew, Bernardo Bellotto, also used his uncle’s nickname. It might also have been a possibility that reprobate art dealers were unethically trading copies of Canal’s works and were now into a panic attack that he was about to return to Venice again. Historian Michael Levey also called Canal’s work from that period ‘inhibited’.
So as to rebut this accusation, Canal, through an advertisement in a local newspaper, invited ‘any Gentleman’ to inspect his latest painting of St. James’s Park at his studio. Sadly, he could never manage to recover the reputation during his entire lifetime.
Giovanni Antonio Canal’s works always collected high prices. He sold many of his works to George III, which resulted in the bulk of the huge collection of his works being owned by the Royal Collection. Many of his works are also showcased in the Wallace Collection (19) and the dining room at Woburn Abbey (24). The Earls of Carlisle had a collection of many of Canal’s works but unfortunately, many of them were lost due to the fire hazard at Castle Howard.
Bacino di San Marco from the Puntana Della Dogana is a 1740-1745 oil painting done on canvas by Giovanni Antonio Canal. It involves a pair with The Grand Canal looking towards Punta Della Dogana from Campo Sant’Ivo. It is more light-filled than his previous art pieces, with clearer brushwork and the scene depicting the midday sun with more human figures in the background.
The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola is another painting by Canaletto, now showcased in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California. The composition conveys the upper reaches of the Grand Canal near the entrance to the Cannaregio Canal. It is a typical veduta painting popular, serving as a visual for travelers of their tour to Venice.
The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, is an oil painting on canvas, painted in 1730 by Giovanni Antonio Canal. The painting is done in the Rococo style. It is currently showcased in the Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Collection in the Audrey Jones Beck Building, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.