Canaletto was a highly influential Venetian landscape painter, a Vedutisti, or View Painter, during the 18th century. He worked in printmaking and etching as well, producing in Venice and England. Canaletto’s father, Bernardo Canal (1674 – 1744) was a painter of theatrical scenery, or landscapes, under who Canaletto apprenticed. Then upon an influential trip to Rome, Canaletto became enthralled by the city and its people painting what he saw.
He was very much inspired by the work of the Italian Vedutisti, Paolo Giovanni Pannini (1691 – 1756). Canaletto returned to Venice where he started painting landscapes, one of which is his well known piece, The Stonemason’s Yard, painted between 1726 and 1730. During this time he may have studied with Luca Carlevarijs (1663 – 1730) a Venetian Veduta painter. An earlier piece, Architectural Capriccio, from 1723, is known as his first documented work. While he practiced a free-hand style in his early years, his works are marked by accuracy for detail, which developed into his topographical style.
He captured sweeping scenes of Venice’s canals and also the city’s gothic palace, Palazzo Ducale di Venezia (Doge’s Palace). These were highly sought after pieces for art collectors of the time, including The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute from 1730 and Return of the Bucintoro to the Molo on Ascension Day from 1732. Works from this period also included, Palazzo Ducale in Venice and View of the Grand Canal, now on display at the Uffizi Gallery. He also painted pieces that show the city’s pageantry in ceremonies and festivals, using an almost Impressionist style, much ahead of its time.
Gaining interest from English patrons, Canaletto relocated to England in 1746, staying until about 1755. His works created while there attempted the same sweeping scenes of Venice, including Westminster Bridge, from 1746 and a painting of Northumberland House from 1752. Though critics and patrons began to lose their interest as his style became redundant, described as mechanical renderings that were lifeless. At one point, it is said that Canaletto had to practice public demonstrations of his painting in order to disprove accusations that he was an imposter of the real artist.
He retreated to his home of Venice, welcomed back warmly with an invitation into the Venetian Academy in 1763. He stayed there and painted up until his death in 1768. His works, popular during the artist’s time and throughout the 18th century, still continue to retain great worth today at auctions. His legacy survived in his Veduta pupils, including Francesco Guardi (1712 – 1793), Michele Marieschi (1710 – 1743), Giuseppe Bernardino Bison (1762 – 1844) and his nephew, Bernardo Bellotto (1720 – 1780).