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Canaletto in England

Canaletto’s rich legacy of work made over a decade spent in England is the subject of a new exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Denise Silvester-Carr tells how the Venetian artist, long popular with the British, crossed the Channel to revive his fortunes.

When Giovanni Antonio Canal, popularly known as Canaletto, arrived in London in May 1746 his fame as a topographical artist had preceded him. Wealthy English aristocrats on the Grand Tour had returned in the 1720s and 30s with capriccios and views to hang in their great houses. The fourth Duke of Bedford bought twenty-four Venetian paintings for his Covent Garden house (today they are in Woburn Abbey), and the Duke of Leeds and the earls of Fitzwilliam and Carlisle had also acquired paintings. But the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 saw a decline in Canaletto’s fortunes. Military operations prevented the young English milordi who had been his best clients from travelling to Italy.

It may well have been Joseph Smith, the British Consul in Venice and Canaletto’s greatest patron, who suggested that the forty-eight year-old artist should try his luck in England, and he facilitated an introduction to the second Duke of Richmond who, twenty years earlier, had bought a number of Canaletto’s oils through an agent.
 

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