Two greatest vedutisti, which means painters who devoted themselves to almost one and only subject of choice. The timeless Venice.
Giovanni Antonio Canal (born in Venice, 1697 – 1768) was a remarkable painter. But he also knew how to make money out of his talent. Canaletto’s city landscapes, especially depicting Venice and London, brought him fame throughout entire Europe and a considerable fortune.
The truth is, he has had a lot of help in this venture from English patron and art dealer, consul to Venice Joseph Smith. They both unleashed an actual obsession with Venice and Canaletto’s paintings among London social elite of the 18th century. Thanks to them, anyone who could afford a long journey throughout continental cultural landmarks, called The Grand Tour, had to make a stop in Venice. Some of them were even disappointed by the real city after seeing Canaletto’s flawless views prior to the visit.
By some experts, he is regarded as a distant predecessor of Impressionists due to making innovative use of atmospheric effects and strong local colours. By the way, it is not true the Impressionists were the first who painted en plein air. Canaletto was! He used to paint from nature in his prolific early years.
Antonio had his followers. One of them was Francesco Guardi (born in Venice, 1712 – 1793) who has not limited himself to mere copying of his master’s works. He has replicated the same views of La Serenissima – Piazza San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, Basilica di Santa Maria Della Salute, The Grand Canal, gondolas and gondoliers – but how different was his approach!
Actually, looseness of his style known as pittura di tocco (eng. touch painting) became much appreciated by the same Impressionists almost a hundred years later. They liked Guardi’s shimmering brushstrokes, haziness of the view and sketchy approach. His Venice always seems to melt into the sizzling blue sky or sink and dissolve into waters of the lagoon.
Comparing to Canaletto’s clear bright vision, expert sense of composition and perfectly mastered technique of perspective, Guardi’s improvisation seems to be in total opposition to his master’s elegance, however opposites attract.
Anyway, for us, Canaletto wins due to his excellent lighting effects. Look at simple yet brilliant solutions of visual issues such as a light flickering on water’s surface done by the tiny single lines of white paint! Nor Guardi nor any other vedutista was able to replicate those masterstrokes of pure genius.