Two Exhibitions in Paris on Canaletto

Canaletto in Venice, Musée Maillol, from 19 September 2012 to 10 February 2013.

Canaletto and Guardi, the Two Venetian Masters, Musée Jacquemart-André, from 14 September 2012 to 14 January 2013.

1. Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto (1697-1768)
The Giants’ Staircase in
the Palazzo Ducale
, 1755-1756
Oil on Canvas - 174 x 136 cm
Alnwick, Collection of the Duke of
Photo : Collection of the Duke of Northumberland

Anyone strolling through Paris, lovers of Italian painting and even the most uninformed know by now that Canaletto is the subject of two exhibitions currently showing simultaneously at two different venues, the first at the Musée Jacquemart-André, the other one at the Musée Maillol. Those with more philosophical leanings will conclude that only dead souls have the gift of ubiquity whereas the more naive might think that these two events are linked and that there is obviously the possibility of a joint entrance ticket. Nothing could be further from the truth and if the dates are almost parallel this is not the result of a collaboration but rather a rivalry between the two establishments.

The Musée Maillol presents the many facets of Venice as interpreted by Canaletto in a chronological and thematic visit (the islands in the lagoon, the Grand Canal, Saint Mark’s Square...). It shows the stylistic evolution of the painter and recalls the change in the image of the city ; from a political and business power which was progressively lost until it became a destination for tourists wishing to return home with illustrated souvenirs of their stay.
The highlight of the exhibition, the artist’s sketchbook, exceptionally lent by the Gabinetto dei Disegni e Stampe delle Gallerie dell’Accademia, which visitors can also examine virtually thanks to a touch screen, allows us to understand the way the master worked ; in the same way, a reconstruction of his camera obscura is more eloquent than any explanation. The exhibition also looks at the artist’s place in English and Russian collections (ill. 1 and 2).

2. Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto (1697-1768)
The Islands of San Cristoforo, San Michele and Murano
Seen from the Fondamenta Nuove
, c.1724-1725
Oil on Canvas - 67x 127 cm
Saint-Pétersbourg, Musée d’Etat de l’Ermitage
Photo : The State Ermitage Museum
Vladimir Terebenin, Ltonard Kheifets, Yuri Molodkovets

However, La Croix and Libération have expressed certain doubts concerning some of the attributions for the canvases on view at the Musée Maillol. Canaletto was so popular that many copies, and even fakes, appeared on the market already in the 18th century and continue to emerge today. Knowing the above, it seems surprising that the curator chose to include several unpublished paintings from private collections, without providing any details about their provenance ; obviously, this has opened the door for a wave of criticism especially since neither the entries nor the signs for the paintings adopt the more prudent formula of "attributed to", indicating simply "Canaletto". Although this does not mean that these attributions are necessarily false, we are nevertheless surprised by this disregard for a rigorous distinction between acknowledgement and supposition.
Among the unpublished paintings, The Basilica of San Marco and Campo San Basso is shown as being precisely a unicum, in the ensemble of vedute painted by Canaletto, illustrating a shortened view of the space between the left side of Saint Mark’s Basilica and the adjacent buildings ; it is compared to a drawing at Windsor.

3. Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto (1697-1768)
The Piazzetta towards the Clock Tower, c. 1727-1728
Oil on Canvas - 135.5 x 137.5 cm
Brest, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest

The View of an Island in the Lagoon with a Bridge recently appeared on the art market before being acquired by a private individual ; in the catalogue, the author of the entry simply says that its attribution to Canaletto is "well argumented and thus plausible" and suggests placing it in "the nucleus of works - between capriccio and veduta - which André Croboz defines as "crypto-capricci" where the elements are recomposed and arranged according to a new imaginary order.". The View of the Piazza San Marco towards the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale, with the Logetta on the Right" is also given to the master and associated with The Basilica of San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale Seen from the Procuratie Vecchie at the National Gallery in Washington.
Finally, a painting from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Brest (ill. 3), thus held in a public collection in this case, and acquired in 1976 "seems to be" a signed version of The Piazzetta towards the Clock Tower purchased by George III of England in 1762.

4. Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto (1697-1768)
St. Mark’s Square, towards the East, 1723
Oil on Canvas - 141.5 x 204.5 cm
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Photo : Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

5. Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
St. Mark’s Square, towards the East, c. 1785
Oil on Canvas - 35 x 45 cm
Aix-en-Provence, Musée Granet
Photo : Musée Granet

The Musée Jacquemart-André on the other side of town offers an eloquent juxtaposition of Canaletto’s paintings with those of Guardi (ill. 4 and 5) ; eloquent but also didactic thanks to a booklet provided to visitors at the entrance with detailed explanations of certain paintings. The hang tends to demonstrate the connections - some of Canaletto’s early paintings were attributed to Guardi - and the differences between them when placed side by side, the minute attention to detail of the first, the emotion of the second. The curator proudly points out the fact that she obtained the loan of eight drawings and paintings from the Queen’s Royal Collection which owns one of the most extensive holdings of works by Antonio Canal.

6. Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
The Cannaregio Canal with the Palazzo Surian-Bellotto,
the Seat of the French Embassy
, c. 1778-1780
Oil on Canvas - 48.9 x 77.5 cm
New York, The Frick Collection
Photo : The Frick Collection

The title of the exhibition is however a bit misleading as it does not present only paintings by these two most famous veduta artists. The visit begins with a selection of Venetian masters which Antonio Canal knew when he started out and the pictorial tradition in which he belongs : Gaspar van Wittel (1652/3-1736), Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730). Then the juxtaposition between Canal and Guardi proceeds by theme : St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal, the campi, the canals. Two other vedutiste are presented in the rooms : Michele Marieschi (1710-1743) and Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), a nephew and disciple of Canaletto. At the Musée Jacquemart-André we also discover Venice’s many aspects in sections presenting the pomp of the ceremonies as well as the imaginary vision of the capricci. Despite this being the three-hundredth anniversary of Guardi’s birth, the museum succeeded in obtaining some masterpieces such as The French Embassy (ill. 6) and The Embassy of the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, an ambassador might have been instrumental in bringing together the two museums since in fact their exhibitions are, unwittingly, complementary.

Curators :
Musée Maillol : Annalisa Scarpa
Musée Jacquemart-André : Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, Nicolas Sainte Fare Garnot.

Under the supervision of Annalisa Scarpa, Canaletto à Venise, 2012, Coedited by Gallimard/Musée Maillol, 224 p., 39€. ISBN : 9782070138654

Under the supervision of Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, Canaletto-Guardi. Les deux maîtres de Venise, 2012, Editions Fonds Mercator, 207 p., 45€. ISBN : 9789061538448

Visitor information :
Musée Maillol, 61 rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris. Tel : +33 (0)1 42 22 59 58. Open every day from 10:30 am to 7 pm, Fridays until 9:30 pm. Admission : 11€ (reduced : 9€).
Musée Jacquemart-André, 158 boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris. Tel : +33 (0)1 45 62 11 59. Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm, until 9 pm on Monday and Saturday. Admission : 11€ (reduced : 9.50€).

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mercredi 7 novembre 2012

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