The Grand Tour, which began in the 18th Century, led to the popularity of souvenir paintings by masters such as Canaletto (fig. 1) and Guardi. Wealthy young men from Britain, Germany and other northern European countries would travel to the cradle of classical civilization, mainly Italy and Greece, as a culmination of their education. Very often their travels would end in Venice, Rome, Florence or Athens, giving rise to a large demand in souvenir paintings. By the 19th Century, following the introduction of a more general tourism, there was an increased demand for such views.
Born in El Escorial, Madrid in 1833, Rico had his formal education at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. It was not long after his graduation that he took to painting outdoors and travelled widely through Spain. He won a government scholarship to study in Paris, where he was influenced by Daubigny and the Barbizon School. Due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 he returned to Spain and in 1872 he began touring Italy, accompanied by Mariano Fortuny. Rico would spend every summer after 1879 in Venice where he would rent a palazzo, and would often work sitting in a gondola, sketching buildings and bridges as seen from the water.
In 1878 Paul Lefort, a well-known art critic of his time, wrote of Rico in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts: 'Although a fanatic when it comes to light, and an aficionado of rare and augmented colour tonalities, which in his works, resemble precious stones, he refrains from overstepping the limits of human vision... The Grand Canal of Venice, the Slaves' Wharf, his views of Rome, of Toledo, of the Escorial and of Granada are ... inimitable morceaux which reveal his talents in composition as well as his care in execution' (C. Gonzales and M. Marti, Spanish Painters in Rome 1850-1900, Madrid, 1987, pp. 182-3).
Towards the end of his life the artist purchased a house very close to the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. Painted in 1900, the present work can be considered one of the artist’s most accomplished compositions of his late career.