So it was a trip to Kendal’s art gallery at Abbot Hall this Twixmas for a rare taste of art history in the form of Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, known popularly as Canaletto. I was really keen to see their new exhibition so I could look back to historical urban landscape painting.
He was nicknamed after the canals of Venice where he grew up, he was well renowned with the Grand Tourists of the early 1700’s. Following in his father’s footsteps, its no wonder the paintings he created of the great city of Venice were also to be revisualised in the form of the great British architecture of London.
Following a period of war, work from the Grand Tourists dried up and as a consequence Canaletto decided to live in London. For nine years – 1746 to 1755, and the focus of this exhibition, he celebrated the accomplishments, success and wealth of the rising Britain nation, from our admiral fleets, newly designed bridges to the great vistas of London. This abundant subject matter gave Canaletto a plethora of material to paint.
His paintings carry this weight of history. They are precise, if a little formulaic, but emphasise the changing face of London post the Great Fire. His striking compositions are even more evident in his drawings. Simple pen and ink don’t substitute the ease for which he knew his subject. He also not only painted grand vistas but also of everyday urban scenes, albeit with London’s new massive buildings in the background!
The exhibition also features a few other artists that followed Canaletto, adding to his legacy. Canaletto-inspired visual masterpieces from William Marlow continued the theme of Britain being the commercial powerhouse of the future by combining the newly rebuilt St Paul’s Cathedral alongside the canals of Venice.
Obviously these paintings carry the dignity, grandeur and stateliness of a nation of incredible power, yet still combined with a measure of ‘artistic licence’… A great little exhibition showing the marvel of British architecture and as its the only northern venue showing this collection its well worth a visit.
Canaletto: Celebrating Britain
On until 14th February 2016
Abbot Hall Art Gallery