Monday, April 4, 2011

Canaletto and His Rivals at the NGA, Now through June

In March we introduced the CiaoDC community to the hallmark exhibit of the Italian embassy's and DC Tourism's La Dolce DC, Canaletto and His Rivals
I had the opportunity to visit the exhibit this Saturday with a special group from NOIAW, with the most fabulous docent. Tiffany Meadows Hunt, an M.A. Candidate at American University with an ebullient demeanor, was a refreshing contrast to many of the stern docents I've experienced in the past.

I should warn you at this point that I am not an art history buff, or even a novice. However, I felt inspired to write something by the veduta paintings that conjured up my own memories of Venice. (Feel free to leave any corrections in the comments.) The exhibit takes visitors through the three stages of Canaletto's painting career in Venice. As you travel through each room, you witness the maturation of Canaletto's style, all juxtaposed against those of his rivals: Carlevarijs, Marieschi, Belotto, and Guardi. All were competing in the same commercial art market for wealthy Englishmen. Rather than working on commission for the church, they catered to the Englishmen who traveled through Venice as part of their Grand Tour.

Canaletto was originally trained by his father as a scene painter. This was somewhat unusual at the time, as many artists in training were sent away to do an apprenticeship with a maestro. Therefore, Canaletto's original vistas reflect the style in which he learned to paints scenery for the theater. The sharp contrast of light and dark creates a chiarascuro effect, with almost a baroque-esque feel.

His earlier works also portray a somewhat gritty reality, of the everyday Venetian life, catching them in their day to day labor and activities. Whereas the, literally, picture perfect paintings of Carlevarijs were proof of the ostenatious Venetian celebrations.
Carlevarijs learned that it was advantageous to paint for those buyers who wanted to captivate and impress folks at home about their journey. Marieschi placed less emphasis on the details of the figures in his paintings, but used a somewhat brighter color scheme.

Bellotto, the nephew of Canaletto, actually started off as Bellotto Canaletto, using his more prominent uncle's last name. His style was also somewhat similar to his uncle's in the beginning, but as his skills developed, he began to experiment with the use of more natural lighting.

The last of the rivals explored in the exhibit is Guardi. He became well known for his pittura di tocco, or use of small dots to paint, which created tighter composites. His paintings are somewhat reminiscent of Canaletto's earlier work, if only for the similar mood they evoke.

One of the recurrent themes of the gallery visit was that of fictitious vedutas. Canaletto and his rivals used camera obscura to sketch the actual skyline by hand, but then would play with the lines to create iconic scenes of Venice that did not actually exist that way to the naked eye.

Views of Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals is on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC until May 30, 2011. The exhibit is free of charge.

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