Canaletto: Celebrating Britain

Compton Verney, Warwickshire 14th March – 7th June 2015

I have never really had a tour around a painting exhibition before, not that I haven’t been to exhibitions, rather I usually wander around on my own enjoying the paintings at my own pace admiring what I like and dismissing what I don’t. On such occasions I am very aware that I am not very good at reading the accompanying prose about the exhibition, and whilst I will read enough to get a sense of the purpose or unifying theme of the exhibition, I rarely delve any deeper. In a sense I have never really ‘studied’ art!

I was lucky enough to be invited to the press launch (in the capacity of a ‘friend’) of the recently opened Canaletto exhibition at Compton Verney, my nearest art gallery. The director gave us a tour of the exhibition, comprising paintings and drawings created by Canaletto over a nine year period that he visited Britain (1746-1755). The unifying theme was a celebration of the recent achievements of the British Nation.

London: The Old Horse Guards from St James's Park c. 1749 The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation
London: The Old Horse Guards from St James’s Park c. 1749 The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation

Previously I would have read this in the advertising literature and gone of to admire a beautiful set of urban landscape paintings. But without the tour I would have missed the subtleties, visible to me at least only when pointed out. Subtleties  such as the fact that in London: The Old Horse Guards from St James’s Park  showed the admiralty lit up in full sunshine, perhaps as celebration of the growth and achievements of the British Navy. Without someone to point it out I most certainly would have missed the fact that Canaletto tended to paint his urban landscapes in a similar manner to a theatre scene, with the architecture providing the ‘painted’ backdrop to the ‘stage’ in the foreground on which his ‘actors’ performed. Apparently he painted many of the same figures in several pictures (although the down side of a tour: I didn’t get enough time to work out which figures were repeated in which paintings!). Apparently Canaletto’s father was a theatre director, perhaps going some what to explaining his predilection for painting in this manner. I will certainly take an opportunity of a tour again, I found listening far more engaging than reading. It is as if my eyes don’t want to read words when I have promised them images!!

Without doubt the exhibition is a marvellous display of paintings and show cases London as the Vencie of the day. However I did notice that it was alway good weather in Canalettos paintings. From personal experience Central London does sparkly in the sunshine: light dancing off the Thames and buildings, and to show London architecture off to its best, I can see a fine day will add to the grandure of the occassion. However, I couldn’t help feeling as I left (and granted this wasn’t the point) that ‘a bit of weather’ somewhere over the nine years would have made the series a little more realistic!!

Canaletto: Celebrating Britain

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