Giovanni Antonio Canal (17 or 18 October 1697 –
19 April 1768), better known as Canaletto, was an Italian
painter of landscapes, or vedute, of Venice. He was also an important
printmaker in etching.
He was born in Venice as the son of the painter Bernardo Canal, hence his
mononym Canaletto ("little Canal"), and Artemisia Barbieri. Bernardo Bellotto was
his nephew and pupil. Canaletto served his apprenticeship with his father and his
brother. He began in his father's occupation, that of a theatrical scene painter.
Canaletto was inspired by the Roman vedutista Giovanni Paolo Pannini, and started
painting the daily life of the city and its people.
After returning from Rome in 1719, he began painting in his topographical style.
His first known signed and dated work is Architectural Capriccio (1723, Milan, in a
private collection). Studying with the older Luca Carlevarijs, a
moderately-talented painter of urban cityscapes, he rapidly became his master's
In 1725, the painter Alessandro Marchesini, who was also the buyer for the
Lucchese art collector Stefano Conti, had inquired about buying two more 'views of
Venice', when the agent urged him to consider instead the work of "Antonio
Canale... it is like Carlevaris, but you can see the sun shining in it."
Much of Canaletto's early artwork was painted "from nature", differing from the
then customary practice of completing paintings in the studio. Some of his later
works do revert to this custom, as suggested by the tendency for distant figures to
be painted as blobs of colour – an effect produced by using a camera obscura, which
blurs farther-away objects.
However, his paintings are always notable for their accuracy: he recorded the
seasonal submerging of Venice in water and ice.
In this painting, the high viewpoint gives the illusion of looking out of a
window, but there is no building in the position where the artist would have had to
stand to use the "camera".
The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola,
Canaletto, about 1738. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles Canaletto's early
works remain his most coveted and, according to many authorities, his best. One of
his early pieces is The Stonemason's Yard (1729, London, the National Gallery)
which depicts a humble working area of the city.
Later Canaletto painted grand scenes of the canals of Venice and the Doge's
Palace. His large-scale landscapes portrayed the city's pageantry and waning
traditions, making innovative use of atmospheric effects and strong local colors.
For these qualities, his works may be said to have anticipated Impressionism.
His graphic print S.A Giustina in Prà della Vale was found in the 2012 Nazi loot
This 1752 painting of Northumberland House in London is an example of
Canaletto's work during his residence in England.
Many of his pictures were sold to Englishmen on their Grand Tour, often through the
agency of the merchant Joseph Smith (who was later appointed British Consul in
Venice in 1744).
It was Smith who acted as an agent for Canaletto, first in requesting paintings
of Venice from the painter in the early 1720s and helping him to sell his paintings
to other Englishmen.
In the 1740s Canaletto's market was disrupted when the War of the Austrian
Succession led to a reduction in the number of British visitors to Venice. Smith
also arranged for the publication of a series of etchings of "capricci" (or
architectural phantasies) (capriccio Italian for fancy) in his vedute ideale, but
the returns were not high enough, and in 1746 Canaletto moved to London, to be
closer to his market.
He remained in England until 1755, producing views of London (including several
of the new Westminster Bridge, which was completed during his stay) and of his
patrons' castles and houses. His 1754 painting of Old Walton Bridge includes an
image of Canaletto himself.
He was often expected to paint England in the fashion with which he had painted
his native city. Canaletto's painting began to suffer from repetitiveness, losing
its fluidity, and becoming mechanical to the point that the English art critic
George Vertue suggested that the man painting under the name 'Canaletto' was an
The artist was compelled to give public painting demonstrations in order to
refute this claim; however, his reputation never fully recovered in his
After his return to Venice, Canaletto was elected to the Venetian Academy in
1763 and appointed prior of the Collegio dei Pittori. He continued to paint until
his death in 1768. In his later years he often worked from old sketches, but he
sometimes produced surprising new compositions. He was willing to make subtle
alternations to topography for artistic effect.