'...what I really love is the way Canaletto manages to impart the sparkle of Venice’s Grand Canal to our own greasy Thames'
London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City, after 1749, by Antonio Canaletto (1697–1768), 41½in by 73½in, The Royal Collection
Christopher Boyle says:
The 18th-century Grand Tour had such a profound effect on English taste that it continues to inform our aesthetic today. Memories of Rome and of Canaletto’s mercantile Venice fired the imagination of many an English Milord. Here, the Venetian master captures London in all its mid-Georgian splendour, its sublime Wren skyline still recognisable until the 1960s. Above a teeming city, the great dome of St Paul’s consciously rivals St Peter’s, proclaiming a Protestant maritime trading power, but what I really love is the way Canaletto manages to impart the sparkle of Venice’s Grand Canal to our own greasy Thames.
Christopher Boyle QC is a planning barrister, organic farmer and Chairman of The Georgian Group
John McEwen comments on London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City:
By the 18th century, only Corfu remained of the maritime empire that had brought the tiny territorial republic of Venice such disproportionate wealth and power, so it reinvented itself as the world’s honey pot, which, for sublimity, it remains.
The mass of rich pleasure-seekers had an insatiable need for mementoes. Canaletto was the unchallenged master for cityscapes. His career was enhanced and saved by the English—as clients, and, inseparably, as agents. The latter were Owen McSwiney, an Irishman bankrupted in England, and Joseph Smith, the British Consul. McSwiney, who was popular but permanently in debt, acted as a contact man for Smith, who was an honest, loyal, efficient collector and fixer, roundly disliked for being a self-seeking snob.
You could buy a Canaletto without engaging Smith, but he would ensure authenticity and safe delivery. He was the key figure in Canaletto’s success in Venice, as well as in England, where the artist followed his English patrons after Grand Tourism declined following the Austrian War of Succession.
George Vertue, antiquarian and engraver, noted the arrival of ‘the Famous Painter of Views Canaletti of Venice’ in 1746. Canaletto’s first London client was a foreign visitor, the young Prince Lobkowicz. According to Vertue, Canaletto was reserved and disliked ‘being seen at work, at any time, or anywhere’.
After four years he returned to Venice. Smith, ever loyal, bought this Thames view and its companion, which may have been painted in Venice from drawings. He later sold them to George III.