This is one of a group of four views by Canaletto acquired from the artist by Charles Powlett, 3rd Duke of Bolton. The details of that acquisition were first publicly recounted by George Knox in his 1993 Burlington article (loc. cit.), when he published the details of a document shown to him by the late Major A. F. Clarke-Jervoise and written by the latter's ancestor, Sir Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise, Bt.:
Mem:m from Mr. Seguier to me
1855 J.C.J. 4 Canaletti were painted for the
D. of Bolton then at Venice,
and were purchased at the recommendation
of Mr. Seguier by my father from
Mrs. Poulett [sic] who asked the cost price
(£25 for each picture)
according to the receipt she had,
under the hand of Canaletti, or mem:m of
the D. of Bolton
£100 for the four paintings,
J.C.J. Feb:y 12
The name of the Firm is Messrs. Seguier & Smart
6 Argyle Place,
Regent Street, London.
The other three paintings from the group are: The Molo, looking north-west, with the Doge's Palace in the Centre (Links, op. cit., pp. 9-10, no. 85**); The Grand Canal, looking north from near the Rialto Bridge (ibid., pp. 24-5, no. 233bb); and The Grand Canal, looking south from the Ca' da Mosto to the Rialto Bridge (ibid., p. 26, no. 240*; sold at Christie's, London, from the Clarke-Jervoise estate, as the subsequent  lot to the present picture, 27 June 1975 [£29,000 to Leadbeater]). All four paintings are the same size and were presumably considered by the Duke to be a single entity; rather than a set of four, however, the paintings in fact constitute two pairs: the views of the Grand Canal, and the present painting together with the view of the Molo. That said, the precise date of the paintings' execution - as well as of their initial sale - is unclear.
Knox (loc. cit.) suggested that a terminus ante quem may be provided by the depiction in The Grand Canal looking north of an open projection of land, lower right. That plot is also depicted in the earliest version of the composition - from Stefano Conti's commission of 1725 - as well as in a drawing associated with that painting, in which the projection was annotated by Canaletto with the word 'fondamenta' suggesting that building works were currently underway there. Those foundations are replaced by a walled yard in the painting of the same view now in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, indicating that the Bolton picture should precede the one at Windsor. The latter is one of the celebrated set of fourteen paintings purchased by King George III from the collection of Consul Joseph Smith that were engraved by Visentini for his 1735 Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum addito Certamine Nautico et Nundinis Venetis, leading Knox to give a tentative dating for the Bolton pictures of 1734/5. However, that dating of the Windsor series had been revised following Constable's publication (Canaletto, Oxford, 1962, p. 109) of a letter of 17 July 1730 from Smith to Samuel Hill, in which he advised that: 'The prints of the views and pictures of Venice will now soon be finish'd'. Given that Smith can only realistically have been referring to Visentini's publication, the Windsor painting can thereby in fact be dated to 1729/30. On that basis, Knox's tentative hypothesis would instead suggest an implausible dating of the Bolton pictures to the late 1720s.
Although it is in certain examples possible to date, or sequence, Canaletto's paintings through architectural developments, that method needs to take into account that Canaletto did not always depict Venice with photographic accuracy. The very fact that many of his viewpoints are imaginary - up in the sky or in the middle of canals - makes such a concept untenable; in addition, however, although major architectural developments were probably represented, smaller liberties are not uncommon: a minor example in another of the Bolton pictures is the exclusion of the campanile of Santo Stefano (visible in the version of the composition at Windsor Castle) from the view of The Molo looking north-west. In the case of the strip of land in The Grand Canal looking north, the fact of the strip's existence may probably be inferred from the drawing, but it cannot have been regarded by Canaletto as more than a compositional device. So, for example, if one compares the Conti, Windsor and Bolton paintings, one can see that, even though the implied viewpoint advances and retreats by several hundred yards between the three, the strip similarly moves in order to anchor the composition. Assuming it did exist, and if its actual position can be gauged at all, the drawing should be taken as the closest representation of reality. On that basis, had Canaletto been painting it with topographical (and by implication architectural) accuracy, then it would be projecting well into the middle ground of the Windsor and Bolton versions.
If Canaletto was in effect inserting the strip as a purely compositional device rather than an architectural record, then no weight should be attached to its appearance. Such a view can be confirmed by considering the scaffolding on the building in front of and to the left of Ca' Pesaro in the Conti version, scaffolding that was erected for the rebuilding of the Palazzo Corner della Regina, begun in 1724. In most subsequent depictions, that scaffolding has been removed. However it does re-appear in the view in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, dated by Constable (ibid., no. 231) to circa 1726, in which painting the artist has also represented the plot of land as having been walled-in. The fact that in the Bolton painting the scaffolding has been removed but the wall has not been constructed demonstrates the impossibility of using the plot to hypothesize a chronological sequence for the various versions of the composition and, by extension, a date for the four Bolton pictures.
Fundamentally, any topographical necessity of dating the Bolton paintings to at latest the beginning of the 1730s is highly problematic on stylistic grounds. The slightly cool, airy sunlight of the view would in itself argue for a date from the later 1730s, as does the tighter, finer application of paint; moreover, one can discern within the picture the beginnings of the artistic mannerisms, the curls and dots, that would come to pervade Canaletto's work. Here, however, there is none of the slightly mechanical shorthand of the artist's later years; so, the figures - for example the friars in the sandalo in the right foreground - possess the characterisation and interaction of which Canaletto was at his best a master, whilst dots of red are ingeniously employed both periodically to enliven the far shore as well as to link it in with the red-highlighted foreground. Perhaps particularly effective is the artist's depiction of light on the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore (which for compositional reasons has been turned towards the Guidecca, facing the viewer and revealing its left side) and its reflection in the water, both depicted with a subtle flair that suggest a date in the late 1730s and certainly no later than the early 1740s.
Knox also noted that, at £100 (or approximately 200 sequins) for the four, the price paid by Bolton was in line with the sums known to have been charged by the Canaletto for similar works in the early to mid-1730s. These include the 35 sequins paid in 1730 by Hugh Howard to Consul Smith for two similarly sized paintings; the 32 and 30 sequins paid by Schulenburg for paintings, as well as the 120 sequins charged to the Count for his commission of the much larger (122 x 201 cm.) View of the Bacino now in the Sir John Soane Museum, London (for the identification of which, see A. Binion, La Galleria scomparsa del mareschallo von der Schulenberg, Milan, 1990, p. 118). However, such an assessment is hard to make with confidence, as there are too few examples of recorded payments for new works by Canaletto to establish price trends, and where those examples are known - for example the 80 guineas paid for the View of Old Horse Guards now in the Lloyd-Webber Collection - they suggest that the price paid was indeed reasonable, as Knox suggests, but not necessarily just for the early 1730s.
The dating of circa 1740 suggested on stylistic grounds fits well with known versions of the four compositions, which mostly date from before that year. In particular, however, the versions of two - the present picture and The Grand Canal, looking south from the Ca' da Mosto to the Rialto Bridge - are crucial in suggesting a more accurate dating of the Bolton originals. Those two were known before their rediscovery through copies (for which see respectively E. Martini, La Pittura Venezia del Settecento, Venice, 1964, p. 250, note 214, figs. 196-7, as in a Private Collection, Parma; and C. Beddington, op. cit., p. 666, fig. 15) formerly thought to be by Canaletto or his school, but now recognised as by the youthful Bellotto. That two paintings from the same purchase had been copied by the young pupil strongly suggests that his versions date from only shortly after his uncle's prototypes, making any date for the latter of earlier than the later 1730s extremely improbable. The fact that Bellotto's version of the present painting is likely to be the earliest of his depictions of the subject (of which at least two others are known from his early years) does support such a very early dating in his career. This is confirmed by Charles Beddington, who in his recent Burlington article (loc. cit.) proposed a likely dating for the originals of circa 1737 and for the copies circa 1738, and by Bozena Anna Kowalczyk who (private communication, December 2004) suggests a similar date of 1737-8.
That dating is entirely plausible for the timing of Bolton's purchase, although the assumption that the Duke purchased his paintings directly from the artist in Venice cannot necessarily be relied on. Mrs. Poulett and Mr. Seguier both clearly believed that the Duke had done so, and one must therefore assume that such was the family tradition, but there is little direct evidence to support that. A considerable number of Canaletto's clients acquired works from him from overseas through an intermediary, most noticeably Consul Smith; one of the few recorded payments for works by Canaletto - that by Howard, mentioned above - shows precisely such an arrangement carried out through Smith. The fact that the description of the original bill of sal gave the price in pounds rather than sequins suggests that the Duke was one such. Certainly it seems improbable that either Mrs. Powelett or Seguier would have been conversant enough with the exchange rate of some sixty or seventy years previously to have been able to establish the pound equivalent of a sum given in sequins. That this was the case would be no misfortune: many of the paintings acquired directly from the artist were those that had not been reserved by intermediaries such as Smith for their clients, with the result that the best of Canaletto's works of this period tended to be those bought through such agencies. To assume that the Duke did not buy his paintings in Venice , which without further information and in the absence of that original receipt must remain hypothetical, would also accord better with waht is known of the Duke's life.
Born into a promient Whig family, Bolton seems never to have shown a great inclination for the affairs of state displayed by many of his relations: even at school, his master, Robert Uvedale, wrote that he 'declines all business, and refuses to be governed, absenting himself from school, and by no presuasion will be prevayl'd upon to follow his studies, but takes waht liberty hee thinks fitt upon all occasions'. He was judged by his contemporaries to have gone into public life han zeal, holding a Hampshire seat in Parliament until his succession to the Dukedom in 1722. Subsequently, in return for employing his extensive influence in Hampshire on behalf of Lord Sunderland, Bolton was created Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire and Dorset, Warden of the New Forest and Knight of the Garter; after Sunderland's death he moved towards the Walpole-Townshend administration, becoming a privy councillor and constable of the Tower of London in 1725 and governor of the Isle of Wight (in place of the Tower appointment) in 1726. However, Bolton's naturally more carefree nature continually showed itself. His foremost passions in life were hunting (John Leheux wrote of his pursuits in 1725 that 'such long chases and hard riding was never known nor spoke of'), racing and women, and the latter was shortly to bring a rapid end to any particular likelihood of high office but would make him a part of one of the more celebrated liaisons of the eighteenth century.
In the spring and early summer of 1728, John Gay's Beggar's Opera, produced by John Rich at the theatre of Lincoln's-Inn Fields, had its unprecedented run of sixty-two nights, famously making "Gay rich and Rich gay" . Spence records that the idea of a play, with malefactors amongst its characters, took its rise in a remark of Jonathan Swift to Gay: 'What an odd, pretty sort of thing a Newgate pastoral might make.' Gay proceeded to work out the idea in the form of a comedy, Swift giving him his advice, and now and then a correction, but believed the piece would not succeed. Certainly, the success of the play was considered doubtful for the greater part of the first act, and was not quite determined until the actress playing the part of Polly Peachum sang her pathetic appeal to her parents,
'Oh, ponder well, be not severe,
To save a wretched wife,
For on the rope that hangs my dear
Depends poor Polly's life.'
Then the audience, completely captivated, broke out into an applause which established the success of the play. Amongst other consequences of the furore for the play was a sad decline in the receipts at the Italian opera, which Gay had all along meant to rival.
The actress playing the part of Polly Peachum was an eighteen-year-old girl called Lavinia Fenton, and if Gay's success was remarkable, Fenton's was to eclipse even that. Gay himself acknowledged her remarkable rise to fame, writing that March to Swift: 'There is a Mezzo-tinto Print publish'd to day of Polly, the Heroine of the Beggar's Opera, who was before unknown, & is now in so high vogue, that I am in doubt, whether her fame does not surpass that of the Opera itself', whilst Henry Carey wrote that:
'The Sons of Bayes, in Lyric lays,
Sound forth her Fame in Print O!
And, as we pass, in Frame and Glass,
We see her Mezzo-tint-O!'
She was not, of course, without her detractors: the poet Edward Young wrote to Thomas Tickell that 'Polly a Wench that acts in the Beggars Opera 'tis said, has raised her Price from one Guinea to 100, tho she cannot be a greater whore than she was before', but these did nothing to tarnish Lavinia's lustre: her 'life' was printed, her portrait appeared on screens and fans, a collection of theatrical anecdotes was dedicated to her, supposed letters to her were published, and, as mentioned, the prima donnas of the Italian opera were said to be quite eclipsed.
Given London's breathless admiration for Lavinia, it was no surprise that she rapidly drew Bolton's attention, and on the sixty-second night of the performance, on 19 June, 'to the great Surprize of the Audience, the Part of Polly Peachum was performed by Miss WARREN, who was very much applauded; the first Performer being retired, as it is reported, from the Stage' (Country Journal, 22 June 1728). The reason was soon discovered, as reported by John Gay to Swift: 'The D of Bolton I hear hath run away with Polly Peachum, having settled 400l a year upon her during pleasure, & upon disagreement 200l a year'. Commentators were no doubt delighted by the public nature of the affair, which even had the honour of being forever immortalised by Hogarth, in whose depiction of the Newgate scene from the Opera Bolton stares from his box at the actress, but in truth both Bolton and Fenton come out of it as rather sympathetic characters who seem to have shared a genuinely loving relationship (William Hogarth, The Beggar's Opera, 1729, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; fig. 3).
As a young man, Bolton had been pushed by his father into marriage with an heiress, 'exstreemly good, and very handsome, and very modist and vertuously brought up' (Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1.236n.). Those quiet and staid virtues were hardly suited to the more colourful nature of her husband, however, and the two found each other rambunctious on the one hand and dull on the other; with little or nothing in common, the couple separated within a few weeks of their wedding. Although still married, therefore, the Duke was living alone when he met Fenton, whose personality was clearly far more scintillating than that of his estranged wife. The most objective description of her character was written long afterwards by a clergyman, Joseph Wharton, who travelled with her and the Duke in 1751: 'She was very accomplished; was a most agreeable companion; had much wit, and strong good sense, and a just taste in polite literature. Her person was agreeable and well-made; though she could not be called a beauty. I have had the pleasure of being at table with her, when her conversation was much admired by the first characters of the age.'
The old Dictionary of National Biography recorded that: 'From the commencement of this liaison, Bolton spent a large portion of his time travelling on the continent with Miss Fenton', and this understandably lead writers to take at face value Seguier's belief that the old receipt was given by Canaletto to Bolton whilst the latter was visiting Venice. There seems, however, to be little evidence of the Duke's supposed travels, and in fact the couple lived together openly but discreetly between Bolton's London houses and Westcombe Park, near Greenwich, having three children. There appears to be no specific record of the Duke having made any Continental tour until 1751, when he wrote to wrote to Newcastle that 'I have bien told that a Warmer Climate and a Clearer Air such as the South of France, wou'd give me better health than I have had for some year's'; it is not known, however, whether he travelled as far as Italy on that occasion. John Ingamells in his Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800 (New Haven and London, 1997, p.103) makes no mention of the Duke at all, although he records a 'Bolton' as having arrived in Rome from Naples in December 1729 with a Mr. Forward; the two men are subsequently recorded as having been seen among the Jacobites there in March 1730 and as having departed that April. It is, however, at best improbable that such a prominent member of the Whig aristocracy - and, indeed, one who would raise a regiment in Hampshire against the 1745 rising - would be fraternising with the Jacobite court in Rome.
As mentioned, Bolton was to a degree in retreat from 1728 to 1733, and from that year (when he had voted against Walpole over the Excise and had in consequence been stripped of all his offices) also in the political wilderness until his reinstatement by Newcastle in 1740. Fenton gave birth to three children in that period, which would have reduced their ability to travel at least in the early part of those years. This would, therefore, offer the possibility of the couple's having travelled to Europe in the late 1730s, and therefore at the correct time to acquire the four Canalettos, although it might be considered unusual (even in the eighteenth century) for Fenton to have left her children at such a young age. Equally, of course, it is possible that the Duke travelled to the Continent without his companion, although given what is known of the closeness of their relationship this also seems improbable: certainly they travelled together on the above-mentioned trip of 1751 (and in fact were married on that journey, following the death of the Duke's first wife that October). Most importantly, however, given the gossip-ridden nature of society in eighteeth century Rome and Venice, it seems incredible that so high-profile, even scandalous, a couple as the Duke and Lavinia Fenton could have travelled to either city and drawn not even a lone remark from the diarists and commentators of the day.
The Idsworth estate was acquired by the Clarke-Jervoise family in 1789, and so it is likely that Mrs. Poulett's sale of the Canalettos dates from after that point, although Mrs. Poulett's identity is not precisely known. On the death of the 3rd Duke, his titles passed to his younger brother, but he bequeathed all he owned, including by extension the Canalettos, to his 'dear and well beloved wife', making her the sole executrix. She, in turn, left the majority of her estate to their eldest son, Rev. Charles Powlett (1728-1809 [the date of whose birth strongly suggests the reason for his mother's sudden departure from the stage]), the Rector of Itchen, Hants., and St. Martin's, near Looe, Cornwall; the latter seems, however, not to have married; the fact, therefore, that the Canalettos were sold by a Mrs. Poulett, implies that they were bequeathed either by the Duchess or the Rev. Charles to one of his two younger brothers, Percy Powlett, R.N., and Lt.-Col. Horatio Armand Powlett. Both were married (although the identities of their wives seem to be unrecorded), but only Percy had a child who reached maturity: Rev. Charles Powlett (1764-1834), the Rector of Roding, Essex, and of his uncle's parish of Itchen, who married in 1796 Anne, née Temple (1772-1827). The fact that the pictures were bought from Mrs. Powlett, rather than one of the Duke's own blood-descendants suggests that she was likely to have been a widow; in which case - given Anne Powlett's having predeceased her husband - she must have been one of the unrecorded wives of Percy and Horatio, and the sale may quite possibly have occurred after the death in 1809 of the elder Charles. Charles. Charles. Charles.
The Bacino di San Marco, looking east from the mouth of the Giudecca, the Dogana and the Riva degli Schiavone to the left and San Giorgio Maggiore to the right
Oil on canvas
THE PROPERTY OF AN ENGLISH LADY OF TITLE
Giovanni Antonio Canal, il Canaletto
23 7/8 x 37 5/8 in. (60.6 x 95.5 cm.)
G. Knox, 'Four Canaletti for the Duke of Bolton and Two "Aide Memoire"', in Apollo, October 1993, pp. 245-9.
J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable's Canaletto. Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, London, 1997, pp. 14-5, no. 133*.
C. Beddington, 'Bernardo Belloto and his circle in Italy. Part I; not Canaletto but Bellotto', The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, no. 1219, October 2004, p. 667 and note 20.
Acquired from the artist by Charles Powlett, 3rd Duke of Bolton, K.G. (1685-1754), by whom bequeathed to his widow
Lavinia, Duchess of Bolton, née Beswick and alias Fenton (1710-1760), Westcombe House, Greenwich, and by inheritance (see below) to
Mrs. Powlett, by whom sold to
Rev. Samuel Clarke-Jervoise, Idsworth Park, Hampshire, and by descent to
Major A.F. Clarke-Jervoise, Idsworth Park, Hampshire; (+) Christie's, London, 27 June 1975, lot 5 (sold 34,000 gns.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 1 November 1978, lot 51 (sold £120,000).
With Harari and Johns, London, 1988, by whom, sold to the present owner.