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Bernardo Bellotto 
(Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw)
Bernardo Bellotto (Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw)

Venice, the Molo, with the Doge’s Palace, the Piazzetta and the Libreria, looking west

Bernardo Bellotto
(Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw)
Venice, the Molo, with the Doge’s Palace, the Piazzetta and the Libreria, looking west
oil on canvas
23 7/8 x 38 3/8 in. (60.8 x 97.5 cm.)
J.H.H.V. Lane, King’s Bromley Manor, Lichfield; Christie’s, 13 December 1912, lot 122, as ‘J.B. Canaletto’ (600 guineas to Wertheimer).
with Asher Wertheimer, by whom sold to the following,
Adolph Hirsch (b. 1862), 10 Upper Brook Street, London, and by descent to his grandson,
George Pinto (1929-2018).
W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768, 2nd edition, revised by J.G. Links, Oxford, 1976, I, pl. 191; II, p. 226, as 'Canaletto'.
G. Knox, ‘Four Canaletti for the Duke of Bolton, and two ‘Aide-memoire’, Apollo, CXXXVIII, October 1993, p. 246, as 'Canaletto'.

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Clementine Sinclair Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Based on a prototype by Canaletto for the 3rd Duke of Bolton, this notable early work of about 1738 by his nephew Bellotto, an artist of astonishing precocity, shows the Molo with three of the most celebrated buildings in the heart of Venice, the gothic Doge’s Palace, with the adjoining Prigioni Nuove, and, on the further side of the Piazzetta, Sansovino’s great Libreria. The oblique angle of vision meant that the early afternoon light could be used to pick out the detail of the architecture. Canaletto, who had previously shown the Doge’s Palace at an even sharper angle, would himself paint a repetition of the Bolton view, but with different boats and figures, for his key patron, Consul Smith (Royal Collection; Constable, op. cit., no. 85).
The four canvases Canaletto supplied, presumably through the agency of Smith, to Charles Paulet, 3rd Duke of Bolton, K.G. (1685-1754) were first published by George Knox in 1993 (op. cit.): of the companions, the Bacino di San Marco, looking East (J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768, London, 1997, no. 133*) was clearly intended as a pendant to this view—and as so often with his paired compositions these have intersecting lines of vision; while the other two canvases, views looking north from the Rialto Bridge and south-east from the Ca’ da Mosto towards this (ibid., nos. 230 (bb) and 240*), in each of which the view point of the other can be seen, were evidently also conceived as a pair. Although Knox believed the Bolton canvases to be of the early 1730s, these are more probably of about 1737. The young Bellotto evidently made a close study of the series. His drawing after the view of the Molo, formerly in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt and sold at Fischer, Lucerne in 1947, is published by Bozena Anna Kowalczyk in her detailed entry for the copy of this lot from the Baroni collection (Sotheby’s, New York, 29 January 2013, lot 30), which she then accepted as by Bellotto. The drawing of the companion picture of the Molo remains at Darmstadt, as does that after the view from the Ca’ da Mosto, on which Bellotto based his canvas in an American private collection, the attribution of which was established by Charles Beddington (‘Not Canaletto but Bellotto’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, October 2004, p. 666). His close familiarity with the Bolton quartet may indeed be seen to mark a central phase of Bellotto’s early development in the later 1730s. However, it should be stressed that despite their inevitable topographical dependence on Canaletto’s compositions, with their strength of tone and technical fluency these works express the nephew’s own artistic personality that was to secure him a European reputation.
The ex-Darmstadt drawing follows the Bolton picture with close precision, although it omits the post which is set against the shadow of the bridge and that in front of the boat on the right below the fifth and sixth bays of the Prigioni, as well as the small boat behind the second of the two gondolas on the extreme left edge of the composition. Links can have known neither when he added this Hirsch picture to the second edition of Constable’s monograph in 1976 as a work by Canaletto himself. Knox, evidently judging from the small reproduction of 1976, correctly noted that this is ‘almost identical’ with the Bolton picture. It may indeed have been directly based on the drawing formerly at Darmstadt. The ex-Baroni picture follows the drawing in omitting the two posts and the boat mentioned above. However, unlike that in this, the Hirsch canvas, the sky in it does not overlie the right-handed diagonally hatched ground that was so consistent a feature of Bellotto’s early style, and, like his looser but characteristically fluid execution, helps to explain why he was able to work more expeditiously, and therefore at less cost, than his uncle. As Kowalczyk observed, the ex-Baroni picture, which she considered to demonstrate ‘a certain creativity in the design’ on Bellotto’s part, shows twelve machicolations on the lateral façade of the Doge’s Palace, rather than ten as correctly shown in Canaletto’s picture and in both the drawing by Bellotto and the picture under discussion. The dormer window seen in all three is also dropped from the ex-Baroni picture, in which the group of boats drawn up on the right is simplified and several figures on the Molo are omitted. The painter of the ex-Baroni canvas introduced an opening in each of the kiosks on either side of the bridge and reduced the number of blind arches at the near corner of the palace from five to four, perhaps because he was working from the outline drawing in which the distinction between blind and open arches was not clear. That the painter in question had at least a degree of access to the prototype, as well as Bellotto’s drawing, is suggested by the fact that for the grey cover of the boat in front of the fifth and sixth bays of the Prigioni he substituted one of alternating blue and white stripes like that seen on the left of the pendant view of the Bacino from the Bolton series.
The compiler is indebted to Charles Beddington for confirming the attribution of this picture to Bellotto, previously known to him only from the old photograph used by Links. Bozena Anna Kowalczyk also accepts that this canvas, which in 2013 she only knew from the small reproduction of 1976, is by Bellotto.

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