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Venice: The Mouth of the Grand Canal from the East; and The Molo, with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace, from the Bacino

Venice: The Mouth of the Grand Canal from the East; and The Molo, with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace, from the Bacino

oil on canvas
the original painted surfaces 18 ½ x 30 7⁄8 in. (47 x 78.4 cm.); and 18 ½ x 30 5⁄8 in. (47.1 x 77.7 cm.); the stretchers: 18 ¾ x 31 in (47.6 x 78.7cm.); and 19 x 31 ¼ in. (48.3 x 79.3 cm.)
(2)a pair
(Possibly) Commissioned in 1733 by Elizabeth, Countess of Essex (d. 1784) and by inheritance to her son,
William Anne, 4th Earl of Essex (1732-1799); Christie’s, London, 31 January 1777, lot 32 or 58, or 1 February 1777, lot 27.
(Possibly) James George Henry Glass, C.I.E. (1843-1911), The Canons, Mitcham, and by descent to his son,
Donald James Cumberlege Glass (1881-1944), Ringmer Park, Lewes, Sussex, by 1939, and by inheritance to the present owner.

Brought to you by

Maja Markovic
Maja Markovic Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

This exceptional pair of views of Venice by Canaletto was painted in about 1733 when he was at the height of his powers as the outstanding Italian view painter of his time. Like most of his finest works of the period, the two canvases were almost certainly painted for an English patron for whom the merchant Joseph Smith, later the consul in Venice, acted as agent. Qualitatively, the pair is of comparable calibre to the great sequence of views on the Grand Canal painted for Smith himself, now in the Royal Collection, and the celebrated series at Woburn for which survive payments of 1734-6 from John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford to Smith’s brother and London agent, John Smith. Charles Beddington has made the plausible suggestion that the two were components of the set of four canvases commissioned in 1733 by the duke’s sister, Elizabeth, Countess of Essex, and despatched by Smith by 18 September the following year.

Smith, whose appointment as consul was owed to the political influence of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, an early patron of Canaletto, understood that for both visual reasons and political ones, due to the parallel between the power of the Venetian patricians and that of the close-knit Whig oligarchy in Britain, views of Venice appealed to Whig patrons, many but by no means all of whom visited Venice on the Grand Tour.

The Mouth of the Grand Canal shows, from the left, Giuseppe Benoni’s Dogana, the Customs House, of 1677, surmounted by Bernardo Falcone’s bronze of Fortune on a globe supported by two atlanti, behind which is Baldassare Longhena’s great church of Santa Maria della Salute, the backs of the gables above the façade of the late Gothic San Gregorio, the now demolished tower of Palazzo Venier delle Torreselle and the sequence of palazzi between this and the campanile of Santa Maria della Carità. On the right, beyond Bartolomeo Monopola’s Palazzo Barozzi Emo Treves de Bonfili (shown before it was enlarged to the west) are the seventeenth-century Palazzo Badoer Tiepolo and a sequence of palazzi, including Palazzo Giustiniani Michiel Alvise, Palazzo Contarini and the subsequently enlarged Palazzo Ferro Fini (shown with obelisks now removed), leading back to the east side of Sansovino’s massive Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, behind which the canal bends out of sight to the right.

The view of the Molo shows from the left, just under four bays of Sansovino’s Zecca (the Mint) adjoining his Libreria, behind which is the Campanile. Beside is the Piazzetta, with the columns of Saint Theodore and Saint Mark, the Torre dell’Orologio, the south front of San Marco, flanked by the Doge’s Palace, and to the right the Prigioni and six buildings east of this, the fourth of which is the late-fourteenth-century Palazzo Dandolo Gritti Bernardo. If the basilica was the spiritual heart of the Venetian republic, the Doge’s Palace, the Libreria, the Zecca and, indeed, the Prigioni all had key roles in the political and cultural life of the Serenissima.

Both pictures imply viewpoints in the Bacino di San Marco just to the east of the mouth of the Grand Canal. Understandably, both were, and remain, among the most evocative of Venetian subjects. Canaletto never repeated his compositions, but like musicians of his time knew how to vary them, shifting an angle of vision and varying the types and positions of the vessels that contributed so signally to his sense of recession.

Of Canaletto’s views of the Mouth of the Grand Canal, the Glass picture is a particularly felicitous example. It bears an obvious relationship to two canvases of much the same size, that of 1729-30 painted for Smith (London, Royal Collection; W.G. Constable, Canaletto, Oxford, 1962, no. 161; 47.7 x 79.1 cm.) – which was itself developed from a more restricted view of 1728-9 painted for Hugh Howard (Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, ibid., no. 166; 49.5 x 72.5 cm.) – and the related picture at Woburn (ibid., no. 164; 47 x 79 cm., most recently considered by Charles Beddington in the exhibition catalogue, Canaletto: Painting Venice, The Woburn Series, London, 2021, no. 5; fig. 1). The latter is taken from the same angle so that a narrow glimpse of the Zattere is seen to the left of the Dogana, with the far corner of the Palazzo Treves Bonfili also visible. The viewpoint in this picture is somewhat further to the east, so that rather more of the Zattere is seen beyond the moored boats and the whole of the canal façade of Palazzo Treves Bonfili is shown. There are minor adjustments: the campanile of the Carità is shorter than in the Smith or Woburn pictures and placed further to the left of the façade of Palazzo Corner. In Smith’s picture, the implied proximity of the Dogana diminishes the impact of the Salute, the dome of which is lower than it is in the composition. In the Woburn picture, the more distant viewpoint ensures that the Salute is more dominant. The process is carried a stage further in this work in which the church is placed higher than the Dogana in the picture plane. In all three canvases, the boats differ, although in each at least one substantial vessel is drawn up on the quay of the Dogana; only in this case are two gondola drawn up beside it. As Charles Beddington has noted, Antonio Visentini’s etching after the Smith canvas helped to popularise the composition and Canaletto was called on to supply later variants of it, all of differing sizes, one from the Liechtenstein collection (Constable, op. cit., no. 165), another that was copied by Baudin and engraved in 1739 (ibid., no. 167) and one painted in London (ibid., no. 163); the disposition of the gondolas and other vessels in all of the autograph variants differs.

Smith’s picture and that at Woburn, both somewhat wider than the Houston picture (49.5 x 72.5 cm.), are both almost identical in size to this canvas (47.7 x 79.1 cm. and 47 x 79 cm.). The very similar measurements of this picture and its companion confirm the stylistic evidence that the two are closely contemporary with these, as Charles Beddington agrees.

Popular as the view of the Mouth of the Grand Canal was, views of the Molo were in even greater demand for very obvious topographical reasons. It was here that ambassadors to the Serenissima arrived. Canaletto painted views of it from both the east and the west, but his most successful composition, of which this is one of the finest variants, show it from the Bacino. These fall into two groups: those like this that show the Doge’s galleon, the fusta drawn up in its accustomed position by the palace and four larger canvases celebrating the return of the Bucintoro on Ascension Day, the celebrations that drew many visitors to Venice.

Canaletto first developed the composition in a drawing of about 1729 at Windsor (ibid., no. 642), which shows the Bucintoro. This was followed about 1730 in three very large pictures, the celebrated masterpiece in the Crespi Collection, Milan; that in the Bowes Museum and the canvas in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, which was acquired by Czarina Catherine the Great (ibid., nos. 336, 337 and 338). Canaletto’s fourth, substantially smaller, treatment, painted for Smith and now in the Royal Collection (ibid., no. 335), is probably of 1733-4 and was etched by Visentini in 1735. In Charles Beddington’s view, the picture in the Uffizi (ibid., no. 102) is probably of 1729 and certainly the earliest of the views excluding the Bucintoro. It was followed by at least seven other variants, to which that here catalogued must be added. There are subtle architectural adjustments in all these and, as was invariably the case, the ships and figures differ in all Canaletto’s autograph variations. Closest in dimension to this example are those at Woburn (ibid., no. 101; 47 x 80 cm.; Beddington, op. cit., no. 1; fig. 2), which is likely to have been one of the earliest components of that series; the somewhat narrower canvas formerly at Langley (Constable, op. cit., no. 106; 47 x 78.5 cm.); and the marginally larger picture now in the Abello Collection (ibid., no. 105; 48.5 by 80.5 cm.). Comparable in other respects is the somewhat larger ex-Norfolk picture (ibid., no. 104; 68.8 x 112.7 cm.; sold in these Rooms, 2 July 2013, lot 51; fig. 3). In the Woburn canvas, the bowsprit of a barge serves the same compositional function as that in the lower right corner of this picture. In the ex-Norfolk work, the barge on the right is brought forward so that the bowsprit extends beneath the fusta. In this, the Glass picture, the barge is neatly balanced by the boat with the striped awning on the left. Boats of similar scale in the corresponding positions in the Bowes, Crespi and Moscow pictures, appear to be about to ram smaller vessels to their left. The stance of the boatmen trying to avoid such a collision is similar in all three and in the ex-Norfolk picture. In this canvas, the patrician under the awning on the gondola is evidently unaware that the boatman in a white shirt on the vessel nearest to his is endeavouring to push his boat away to avoid a collision.

With characteristic subtlety, Canaletto shifted his viewpoints in his pictures of the Molo. In the Windsor drawing, four bays of the Zecca, the Libreria and the Doge’s Palace are shown on a pronounced diagonal, which is followed in the Bowes Museum canvas and in that at Moscow, in which the Libreria is however seen almost face on: the angle of the perspective is slightly reduced in the Crespi canvas. In the Smith picture, the Libreria is seen straight on, while the Zecca – shown with two additional bays – and the Doge’s Palace are shown in less sharp perspective. The Glass picture confirms rather closely with Smith’s and is evidently of very similar date. It shows two fewer bays of the Zecca on the left but adds five bays of the house on the far side of Palazzo Dandolo and an additional building beyond this. As in Smith’s picture, the obelisk on the left of the balustrade of the Libreria overlies the second pilaster from the left of the Campanile, so the Torre dell’Orologio and other buildings seen across the Piazzetta conform with it, although the columns of Saint Theodore and Saint Mark are very slightly narrower. The suffused sunlight brings out the warmth of the diapered brick front of the palace to spectacular effect. In the Woburn picture, Canaletto showed a fifth bay of the Zecca, which is shown in slightly receding perspective, but eliminated the buildings beyond Palazzo Dandolo: the obelisk is aligned more closely with the centre of the Campanile. Similar variations may be noticed in other treatments of the view. Thus in the example once in the Norfolk collection, the relationship of the obelisk corresponds with that in this, the Glass picture, but the whole of the centre of the Torre dell’Orologio is seen and the right-hand column, that of San Marco, is shifted to the left to overlie the centre of the front of the Doge’s Palace to the Piazzetta.

Although some of his patrons may not have realised this, Canaletto had no compunction about altering the relative scale of buildings for compositional effect, most obviously in this case the Basilica. Moreover, aware no doubt that anyone surveying the scene from a boat would have had a constantly shifting view, the artist varied the level of the waterline in successive compositions. He also ensured that the reflections of buildings and boats were true to the light conditions implied by his skies. In the Mouth of the Grand Canal, sun penetrates the cloud and there are strong reflections: in the Molo, the cloud above us must be denser, so the Doge’s Palace is not reflected on the water as in some other variants, the darker light enabling him to emphasise the subtle brick patterning on the palace itself.

From the outset of his career as a view-painter, Canaletto knew that his own pictures conditioned the vision of Venice of people who had not visited it. An eloquent expression of this is offered in a letter from Frances, Countess of Hertford, later Duchess of Somerset, to her friend, Henrietta, Countess of Pomfret, who was then in Venice:

I have (in imagination) attended you to the doge’s palace at Venice, the front of which I am acquainted and charmed with, from a large picture that sir Hugh Smithson [her son-in-law] has of it, painted by Cannalletti… It must certainly be a surprising and noble sight. (Correspondence between Frances, Countess of Hertford (afterwards Duchess of Somerset) and Henrietta Louisa, Countess of Pomfret, London, 1824, III, p. 254).

He was equally aware that many patrons required pictures that could be hung in pairs or as components of longer series and that by supplying pendants with complementary or intersecting viewpoints – as with this pair – he could offer a three-dimensional impression of the relationship between some of the key buildings of Venice. His use of this device is most obvious in the set of twelve Grand Canal views painted for Smith himself, in which the stretch of the canal overlooked by his own house falls in the centre. It can also be seen in Canaletto’s other series, as well as in the selection of the two canvases he painted in England to complement the pair previously commissioned by William Holbech for Farnborough Hall. Of the pairs of pictures identified as such by Constable and Links, some thirty-eight either show specific buildings or groups of buildings from opposite directions, or are of views that anyone familiar with Venetian topography would have known were taken from interlocking viewpoints. In the case of this pair thus, the spectator faces the west to experience the full architectural drama of the buildings flanking the Grand Canal as this debouches into the Bacino, and then can turn to the right to see the Molo and the great monuments of the heart of the city. That both pictures show Venice bathed in filtered morning light only strengthens the bond that binds these.


Elizabeth Countess of Essex
Charles Beddington has made the wholly plausible suggestion that these pictures are from the set of four commissioned by Elizabeth, wife of William Capel, 3rd Earl of Essex, who was the sister of John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford (1710-1771). Her husband was appointed ambassador at Turin in 1732 and, although he returned on leave from December 1734 until the following May, held the post until July 1736. Lady Essex is reported to have had ‘an excellent taste for everything that is called here Virtu’ (cf. J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 341). Joseph Smith on 18 September told her husband that ‘by the force of a Constant reminding of Canal’, he had got him ‘to sett aside some other works’ and use ‘all his skill to finish the four pieces’ she had ordered evidently when in Venice in May 1733; Smith had already despatched the four to London. The choice of subjects for these pictures suggests that Lady Essex had seen the two related works ordered by her brother while these were still in Venice, and thus, as Beddington suggests, that the view of the Entrance to the Grand Canal at Woburn may have been one of the first four to be executed for the duke. The impact of the series now at Woburn, once it was displayed in Bedford House in London, was to lead to further family commissions, from the duke’s erstwhile brother-in-law, Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough – who commissioned the celebrated series of views formerly at Langley Park – and the husband of his sister-in-law, William, 1st Viscount Bateman, who had to be content with accomplished copies of four of the Bedford pictures by an associate of Canaletto.

Lady Essex, like her brother, may after the delivery of her four pictures have ordered further works by the artist. She lived until 1784, but on 31 January and 1 February 1777, her son, William Anne, 4th Earl of Essex sent a significant number of pictures to Christie’s, including ten by the artist: two apparently larger Venetian views (1 February, lots 50 and 65, bought respectively by Crofts and Copinger for 20 guineas each), sold to differing buyers; and three pairs of ‘views in Venice’ (31 January lots 32* and 58, and 1 February, lot 27, bought respectively by Debrun, Turner and Lloyd, for 9, 11 and 16 guineas) and a pair of ‘landscapes with ruins’. She would seem to have been the only female British patron who commissioned works from Canaletto.

Donald James Cumberlege Glass

Donald James Cumberlege Glass (1881-1944), who owned these pictures by 1939, was the only son of James George Henry Glass (1843-1911), of The Canons, Mitcham, Surrey, a distinguished engineer born in Scotland who built up a substantial fortune in India, where he was a director of the Bengal Nagpur Railway Company. On his death, his estate – of which the son was co-executor – was valued at the then considerable sum of £216,855. He presumably obtained a lease of The Canons, a substantial seventeenth-century house remodelled in the Georgian period, from the Cranmer family after his return to Britain in the 1890s and no doubt took steps to furnish this. That he was interested in Italy is suggested by the fact that he died in Naples rather than at his English residence. His first wife, Mary Cumberlege, was evidently a niece of the architect Charles Nathaniel Cumberlege (c. 1807-1859), who owned Zocchi’s view of Piazza Santissima Annunziata, Florence, last sold in these Rooms, 4 December 2012, lot 54. This pair of pictures was included in a settlement made by Donald Glass in 1939.


A studio copy of the Woburn Entrance to the Grand Canal in a private collection shows the Palazzo Treves on the extreme right as in this, the Glass, picture. This suggests that the copy was made when both were still in the artist’s studio and thus offers further evidence that these were painted at almost the same time.

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