Canaletto and the Art of Venice

Queen’s Gallery, London, until Nov 12

There’s a feast of Canaletto just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, in the Queen’s Gallery – and all of it from the Royal Collection. The paintings were bought by George III from Joseph Smith, an English merchant and the British Consul to Venice, who was Canaletto’s friend and agent.

Most of them are of Venice, of course, including a series of 12 paintings which are basically snapshots of a journey along the Grand Canal from one end to the other. We think of Canaletto’s work as almost photographic in its detail, but the exhibition reveals that he wasn’t afraid to manipulate reality, making a canal wider or a building taller, or moving it for the sake of a more pleasing composition.

Illustrating this are three pairs of paintings on one wall of the gorgeous Red Room, the scenes of each pair beautifully balanced through artistry with the weight of buildings on the left or the right.

Taking this further, the exhibition has some wonderful examples, both paintings and pen and ink drawings, of capriccio (the word apparently derives from the Italian for the unexpected leaping of a young goat) – flights of fancy combining the real and the imagined, often featuring ruined architecture in a picturesque setting.

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