Canaletto in London, the 1700's version of Photoshop

It’s no coincidence that many Canaletto paintings can be found in places like the National Gallery in London or other galleries or houses in England. Canaletto spent most of his life working for affluent English clients.

Canaletto spent years in London, which were crucial to his art, thanks to English patrons who allowed him to develop his talent.

Canaletto is best known for his Venice paintings, which include the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, and the Doge’s Palace. These intricate paintings inspired the young English aristocrats who traveled to Venice as part of the Grand Tour, a trip taken by all upper-class Englishmen. Artists and artisans competed for places among the young aristocrats eager to spend as much as to learn wherever they went, from Florence to Rome and from Naples to Venice, and Canaletto was one of them from the start of his professional career.

This influx of young and wealthy patrons resulted in the creation of a new genre of landscape paintings, which exists to this day. The artist Giovanni Antonio Canal, also known as Canaletto, was one of the most important professionals of the time, and he worked with an English promoter and had many English clients for the majority of the years 1720 and 1730.

Connoisseur and collector Joseph Smith, who lived in Venice at the time, recognized Canaletto’s appeal to this specific audience was based on the obvious detail and accuracy of his paintings, and thus promoted his talent at home.

Canaletto’s subject and execution formulas were obvious, but his larger paintings suited well to the country houses that sprung up like mushrooms in England at the time. Furthermore, they are much less expensive than works by Raphael or Michelangelo.

This profitable Anglo-Italian business relationship ended prematurely with the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740 – 48). The British were understandably wary of traveling to the continent during the war. As a result, Canaletto decided to go to his clients and relocated to London from 1746 to 1756.

English Works by Canaletto

Some of his ‘English’ works were not on the same level as his Venetian works in terms of technique or artistic merit.

Canaletto’s views of Eton College, Alnwick Castle, Warwick Castle, and Old Walton Bridge in Surrey, on the other hand, are stunning and have always been popular with English aristocrats. Less successful in the eyes of art experts…

Throughout his career, he has resided at what is now 41 Beak Street in Soho, where he has lived, worked, and operated a sort of shop.

Paintings such as The Old Horse Guards from St Paul’s Cathedral, Il Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City, and his painting looking towards Westminster depicted London in 1536. He also left us paintings of buildings that have since vanished, such as Northumberland House and Westminster Bridge.

Canaletto was the human equivalent of Photoshop.


However, we can’t rely too heavily on Canaletto’s paintings to understand what London was like back then.

Canaletto, as an artist, felt completely at ease moving a building, enlarging or contracting it, or slightly rotating it to improve his compositions. Or by making it completely disappear. Unsurprisingly, he had begun his artistic career as a stage painter under his father’s tutelage.

Canaletto’s London would have been unfamiliar to a Londoner of his generation.  Canaletto painted to sell rather than to create a realistic portrait of the city. Unlike some of his contemporaries, such as William Hogarth.

Canaletto’s landscapes are all bathed in a unique light that is rarely seen in London, and ignored the city’s poverty, pollution, and pockets of ugliness. Simply put, don’t take Canaletto’s paintings as accurate depictions of London in 1700. But, like photos that have been heavily filtered before being posted on Instagram, they may appear to beautiful, but they aren’t real.

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