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Venice, the Grand Canal: looking south-west, from the Rialto Bridge
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About the item

Painted by Bellotto at the age of just seventeen or eighteen, this is one of the young vedutista’s most poetic and accomplished views of Venice. It and its pendant (private collection), both derived from works by the artist’s uncle Canaletto, constitute a major milestone in our understanding of Bellotto’s working methods while a pupil and assistant in the Canaletto studio in the 1730s and further clarify the chronology of the Venetian vedute now attributed to him. Extraordinarily for such a gifted painter, the recognised oeuvre of Bernardo Bellotto’s Venetian vedute has only come together during the past twenty years or so. Until Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, Dario Succi, and Charles Beddington re-assessed a large number of Venetian vedute, almost the entire output of Bellotto during his early years in Venice, under the initial tutorship of his uncle Canaletto, lay obscured under mis-attributions to Canaletto himself or, in most cases, to anonymous assistants in the latter's studio. Bellotto’s style is however distinct from that of his uncle; indeed his own prowess in the depiction of Venice was to have a distinct effect on Canaletto himself whose view paintings for a short period from the late 1730s adopted the cool lighting that was and is the signature of Bellotto’s own views of the city.\nStefan Kozakiewicz included only six views of Venice in his 1972 catalogue of Bellotto’s works.1  Kozakiewicz, a Pole, concentrated his catalogue on Bellotto’s views of northern European cities and towns such as Königstein, Dresden and Warsaw. Kozakiewicz’s opinion on the Venetian vedute was based on that of W.G. Constable, whose 1962 catalogue of the works of Canaletto continues to be the best resource for Canaletto studies.2  Constable however did not address the question of Bellotto, believing someone so young incapable of such brilliance (Bellotto would only have been sixteen when first painting views in Venice). Today, over sixty paintings that Constable attributed to Canaletto (or his studio) in his catalogue are now firmly attributed to Bellotto. The present painting and its pendant are amongst only a small number of works that Constable did in fact link to Bellotto, and with tantalising, though unfulfilled, foresight on this matter he tentatively attributed them to the young painter. Despite this, the question of Bellotto’s Venetian vedute took a large step backwards in 1998 when J.G. Links, editing and updating Constable’s 1962 catalogue, wrote that he found no evidence of Bellotto ever having painted a Venetian view.3  Links, an editor not a scholar, was loath to contradict Constable on any matter concerning Canaletto and his studio.\n\nThe following year Dario Succi curated the first exhibition dedicated to Bellotto’s Venetian view paintings.4 Charles Beddington had recently identified the present painting and its companion as Bellottos and brought them to Succi’s attention. Though unable to be included in the exhibition itself, Succi published them in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, for the first time in modern scholarship restoring them to their rightful place in the oeuvre of Bernardo Bellotto, and describing the present painting in particularly glowing terms.5 In Succi’s view, in its “forza espressiva” and “lirismo atmosferico”, it in fact overshadows the Canaletto in the Royal Collection from which it derives and constitutes an instance of pupil overcoming master.6 \nIn 2004 Charles Beddington’s article in The Burlington Magazine, entitled "Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy. Part I: not Canaletto but Bellotto", brilliantly summarised the situation and added a sense of closure to the issue of Bellotto’s Venetian view paintings. A large corpus of Venetian vedute have thus finally and rightfully been re-attributed to their rightful author Bernardo Bellotto and, as agreed by all modern scholars, this and its companion are amongst the most distinguished of them all.\nIn its detail the painting follows Canaletto’s smaller canvas, painted before 1730, that was one of twelve views commissioned from Canaletto by Consul Joseph Smith and subsequently purchased en masse by George III (now housed at Windsor Castle).  Bellotto replicates both staffage and architecture. The clouds however largely correspond to those in Visentini’s engraving after the Canaletto (fig. 1; published in 1735) and probably thus record the initial appearance of the Canaletto which, being one of the earliest in the series of twelve works painted for Smith, Canaletto probably retouched in the sky to harmonize it with those he executed in the 1730s, six or seven years after the first.7 The only noticeable compositional change Bellotto has made is to extend the fondamenta at the lower left and, with it, the canal, lending a little more distance between viewer and the foremost staffage.\nThe painting has been published by both Charles Beddington and Dario Succi and has been the subject of a recent study by Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, who dates it together with its pendant to circa 1739.\n\nThe view is taken from the eastern steps of the Rialto bridge. At the left is the Campo di San Bartolommeo and beyond it, down the Fondamenta del Carbon, are the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin and the Palazzo Bembo. Further down the same bank the skyline is interrupted by the great hulk of Palazzo Grimani and in the far distance, where the Grand Canal turns sharply left towards the Accademia, the full face of Ca' Foscari can be seen. Along the right bank is a long line of shops and market stalls. The sun is to the left, casting shadows towards the west, denoting that it is mid-morning, with the commercial centre of the city, dominated by merchants, in full swing.\n\nPROVENANCE\nThis painting has the extraordinary accolade of having hung, consecutively, in two of the finest, and largest, nineteenth-century neo-Gothic castles in Great Britain. The first, Saltmarshe Castle, was built by Edmund Higginson in 1845 (fig. 3). The castle was sadly destroyed after the Second World War. Higginson sold the painting directly to the 1st Baron Penrhyn in 1860 and it thus travelled a hundred miles to the north-west, to the Welsh coast near Bangor, to be housed for the next sixty-four years at the rebuilt Penrhyn Castle (fig. 4), described by Christopher Hussey as “the outstanding instance of Norman revival”.8 \nThe Bellotto was not the only painting to pass from Saltmarshe to Penrhyn. Indeed the majority of Penrhyn’s fine collection of vedute were acquired directly from Higginson, or at the Saltmarshe sale at Christie’s in 1860, via Lord Penryhn’s Belgian art advisor, the great C.J. Nieuwenhuys. These included a Canaletto of the Thames and Westminster from near the York Water Gate;9 another of Piazza San Marco;10 and two other Bellottos of The Grand Canal at the Church of San Stae,11 and a view of the Entrance to the Grand Canal and the Piazzetta, the present lot’s traditional pendant.12 Completing Penrhyn’s magnificent collection of vedute were a Bellotto of Campo San Stin and a late Canaletto of Piazza San Marco.13 Lord Penrhyn also acquired from Higginson Rembrandt’s great Portrait of Catherina Hoogstaet, of 1651, which remains at Penrhyn today.\n\n1. See Literature.\n2. W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, 2 vols., London 1968, and 2nd ed. 1989.\n3. J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, London 1998.\n4. Mirano, Barchessa di Villa Morosini, Bernardo Bellotto, detto il Canaletto, 23 October - 19 December 1999.\n5. See Literature.\n6. Constable, 1989, op. cit., no. 219.\n7. See D. Succi, Canaletto & Visentini tra Venzia & Londra, exhibition catalogue, Castello di Gorzia 1986, p. 222. no. 5.\n8. C. Hussey, English Country Houses: Late Georgian, London 1988, p. 181.\n9. Acquired directly from Higginson.\n10. Constable and Links, under Literature, 1989, vol. II, p. 190, no. 9; sold in the same 1924 sale as the present lot, lot 60.\n11. Acquired directly from Higginson and sold, New York, Christie’s, 19 April 2007, lot 113.\n12. Now in a private collection.\n13. The former was sold in 1924 and is now part of the Rau bequest to Unicef; the latter remains at Penrhyn.
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medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Bernardo Bellotto

condition

The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden, who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting appears to have an early nineteenth century stretcher and lining, both of which are still firm. Impasto does still remain in the clouds, and elsewhere throughout the architecture the magnificent tactile crispness of the brushwork is preserved completely intact. The present varnish and restoration probably dates from the early twentieth century, with the sky as always tending to have been rather more cleaned in the past than the architecture, however almost all the amazing detail along the skyline, which has often proved vulnerable, is beautifully preserved. The minutiae within the architecture itself - a dazzling youthful challenge to Canaletto - is spectacularly intact down to the smallest window frame or drape of hanging linen. Every aspect of Venetian life is vividly unworn and complete. A few little blanched water colour retouchings can be seen in the lower centre right of the sky. Older surface retouching is visible under ultra violet light near the top right corner in the sky and along the top in places, with a few along the base edge and far left base corner. However these are minimal imperfections in an extraordinarily intact painting. This report was not done under laboratory conditions. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

dimensions

60 by 91.5 cm.; 23 5/8  by 36 in.

literature

S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London 1972, vol. II, pp. 430-431, no. Z170 (as Studio of Canaletto, circa 1740); E. Camesasca, L'Opera Completa del Bellotto, Milan, 1974, p. 121, no. 291 (as Attributed to Bellotto); W.G. Constable, ed. J.G. Links, Canaletto, Oxford, 1989, vol. II, p.292, no.219a (as 'doubtfully by Canaletto' and tentatively attributed to Bellotto); D. Succi, ‘Bernardo Bellotto nell’”Atelier” di Canaletto e la sua produzione giovanile a Castle Howard nello Yorkshire’, in Bernardo Bellotto detto il Canaletto, exhibition catalogue, Venice 1999, pp.39, 40, reproduced fig.  21 (as Bellotto); D. Succi, 'La Venecia del otro "Canaletto": el joven Bernardo Bellotto', in Canaleto. Una Venecia Imaginaria, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 2001, pp. 70-71, reproduced fig. 11 (as Bellotto)(also published in Catalan language edition, Barcelona 2001); C. Beddington, in E.P. Bowron (ed.), Bernardo Bellotto, exhibition catalogue, Venice and Houston 2001, p. 78, under cat. no. 11, in main text and note 6 (as Bellotto)(also published in Italian language edition).

provenance

Edmund Higginson (1802-71), Saltmarshe Castle, Herefordshire; Purchased from the above in 1860 by Col. the Hon. Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant (1800-1886), later 1st Baron Penrhyn of Llandegai, Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd; Thence by descent until sold, London, Sotheby's, 3 December 1924, lot 59 (as by Canaletto), where bought by Agnew for 460gns.; With Thomas Agnew and Sons, London; Alvan Fuller, Boston, Mass.; Mr. and Mrs. R.L. Henderson, Boston, Mass., from whom acquired by the father of the present owner (via an intermediary) in 1977; Thence by descent to his son.

consignmentDesignation

Property from an Important Private Collection

creator_nationality_dates

Venice 1722 - 1780 Warsaw


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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