In my continuing occasional series on discovering master painters, today I chanced upon Giovanni Antonio Canal (17 or 18 October 1697 – 19 April 1768), better known as Canaletto.
As Sotheby’s of London prepares to auction Canaletto’s depiction of two of Venice’s most familiar landmarks, St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge (painted in 1738-1739), I thought I would pay a visit to the Google Art Project and check out more of his works. There is a rich choice but I have settled for this one titled ‘London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards Westminster”. Canaletto came to London in 1764 and stayed for nine years.
As is always the case, there is more artistic genius in any corner of a truly masterful painter’s single work than what many so-called painters manage in an entire lifetime. One of the most important requirements of an “outdoor painter”, which Canaletto was, is the ability to capture the light. Canaletto had a supreme command over that detail.
I have sliced down various corners to illustrate my point. Look at the painting as a whole in the top frame. (Excuse the smallness). The light you see in the sky, what falls on the Thames waters and what bounces off the ground in the extreme left corner are so very different and yet so seamless. In the top frame you see an Englishman with his dog as one of the many figures. As you zoom in you see the man’s apparent imperiousness or haughtiness of demeanor. He seems the type who should have been preparing to be in India as part of the East India Company, ready to plunder. Of course, this painting predates the company by six years since it began making its presence felt in 1757. I digress.
Look at the difference between the direct light and the kind diffused by the embankment wall. What falls on top of the wall and what slants are also so subtly different.
Patience and attention to detail are two of the most important attributes of a great painter. You see that again and again in the works of master painters. Those attributes show in the way he captures the imposing St. Paul’s Cathedral with lesser buildings in front. I have given you a tighter view of the cathedral to make my point. Look at how precise the proportions, angles and play of light are. Even the colors of each buildings are so meticulously executed.
Speaking of attention to detail and patience, look at the boats and boatmen and their passengers. One of the defining features of Canaletto’s works was that you could feel the movements of everyday life. The two Venetian works going under Sotheby’s hammer in December have the same sense of movement. There are things happening in every corner. Look at the two frames below to feel the movement aboard those boats as well in the Thames waters.
The perspective and the orientation of each boats are also so brilliantly executed. This is the work of a visual genius who misses out on nothing while painting.
Finally, detail of a very different kind. The building in the frame below is partially hidden behind these lovely trees. Canaletto does not take the easy way out by simply obscuring them but bothers to paint the white windows even behind the foliage in precise alignment.
I am not qualified to offer an art appreciation class but am merely sharing my unbridled joy every time I discover such breathtaking works.