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The Grand Canal Paintings

During the 1720s Canaletto executed a set of twelve views on the Grand Canal for his patron, Joseph Smith. The paintings cover almost the entire canal, from its upper reaches at Santa Chiara, via the Rialto bridge, to the spectacular church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Bacino at its lower end.

Canaletto’s method of painting was changing quickly in these years, and we can see his style evolve from the rich colours of the earliest painting, to the lighter tones and more refined lines of the later pieces. Though the paintings give the impression of great accuracy, Canaletto in fact manipulated the scenes– narrowing or broadening the canal, straightening its banks, and eliminating buildings – to improve the compositions.

A few years later, Smith commissioned a pair of larger paintings showing festivals in Venice: a regatta on the Grand Canal, and the Ascension Day celebrations in the Bacino. Smith had these and the earlier twelve Grand Canal views engraved and published as a set in 1735.