John Lewis Brown has been described as 'possibly the most discerning collector ever to have purchased Bonington's work' (M. Pointon, The Bonington Circle: English Watercolour and Anglo-French Landscape 1790-1855, Brighton, 1985, p. 131). An importer of wine from Bordeaux, he was based in London but frequently travelled to and from Calais, and may have bought some of Bonington's works in France. His choice collection was sold in two distinguished auctions in Paris in April 1837. Many of Bonington's works once in Lewis Brown's collection are now in the Wallace Collection, London.
Bonington visited Venice in 1826, accompanied by Baron Charles Rivet (1800-1872), a friend and patron of Delacroix. The visit infused Bonington with enthusiasm for historical scenes set in Venice and for the glowing colours which he saw in the paintings of Titian (circa 1485-1576) and Tintoretto (1518-1594). The present sketch of the Rialto Bridge, with gondolas tied up at mooring-posts in the foreground, is one of 'a masterly series of water-colours and pencil drawings... all done with... poetical precision' (C. Peacock, Richard Parkes Bonington, London, 1979, p. 61). These sketches were to serve as the basis for Bonington's later watercolours of Venice, which remain one of his most popular subjects.