Monday, October 24, 2011

Canaletto's Piazza San Marco

I find it amusing that this impressive painting by Canaletto of the Piazza San Marco couldn't find a buyer in the 1876 sale at Christie's. By the time of this 1995 sale, the work fetched about £1,000,000, and that would likely be considered a bargain today.

The Piazza San Marco, of course, is the destination of every tourist in Venice, whether today or in the 1740's.

Giovanni Antonio Canal, il Canaletto (1697-1768)
The Piazza San Marco, Venice, looking East along the central Line

oil on canvas
23 7/8 x 36½in. (60.7 x 92.8cm.) 


Wadham Knatchbull (1794-1876), Sherborne, Dorset; Christie's, 24 June 1876, lot 118; unsold at 210gns. and sent to Captain Knatchbull, Babington, Bath.
with Edward Speelman, London, from whom purchased in 1947 by
Sir Henry Philip Price, 1st and last Bt. (d. 1963), Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, Sussex.
with Frank Partridge, London, from whom purchased by Sir Michael Sobell (1892-1993) on 17 May 1962 (with the following lot: #35,000). 
Pre-Lot Text
The Property of
W.G. Constable, Canaletto, Oxford, 1962, and subsequent editions, II, under no. 3.
L. Puppi, L'opera completa del Canaletto, Milan, 1968, no. 243B.
J.G. Links, Canaletto. The Complete Paintings, London, 1981, p. 64, under no. 201. 

Price Realized

  • £1,046,500
  • ($1,604,180)
  • Price includes buyer's premium
    £500,000 - £700,000
  • ($766,450 - $1,073,030)

Sale Information

Sale 5527 Lot 74
Old Master Pictures 
8 December 1995
London, King Street

Lot Notes

The sight of the Basilica of San Marco and the Campanile flanked by the Procuratie Vecchie and the Procuratie Nuove from the West end of the Piazza down its central access has always been 'the quintessential Venetian view' (K. Baetjer and J.G. Links in the catalogue of the exhibition,Canaletto, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989-90, p. 66), its popularity with eighteenth-century visitors as keen as it remains with their twentieth-century successors, to judge from the number of variants of the composition Canaletto painted throughout his career. The earliest of these and much the largest, indeed one of the masterpieces of Canaletto's first style, is the painting now in the Museo Thyssen, Madrid (Constable no. 1; no. 1 in New York 1989-90 exhibition cited above, illustrated in colour), which is datable c. 1723 as it shows the pavement of the piazza being laid, documented in that year. A version in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Constable no. 2, no. 27 in the 1989-90 New York exhibition, illustrated in colour) is generally dated to the late 1720s, and that in the series at Woburn Abbey (Constable no. 4) is documented to c. 1733-6. These are followed by the versions in the Fogg Art Museum (Constable no. 14) and at Milton Park (Constable no. 7), of which an engraving was published in 1742. Possibly the latest version is Constable no. 8 probably painted in England in the early 1750s.

The present picture forms part of a group of three versions datable on stylistic grounds to the early 1740s, the others being that in the Bisgood Collection (Constable no. 3) and that formerly in the Cartwright Collection and recently with Richard Green (Constable no. 5). While the figures in all three paintings are almost identical, the same ropes and cloths hang from the façade of the Procuratie Vecchie and the cloud formations are very similar, there are differences in the proportions and perspective of the buildings and in the relationships between the figure groups, the Bisgood picture includes three extra children towards the lower right and the Cartwright picture is unusual in omitting the horses on the façade of San Marco.

Wadham Knatchbull (1794-1876), the first recorded owner of the present painting, was the great-grandson of both the younger brothers of Sir William Knatchbull Wyndham, Bt., who was on the Grand Tour in 1758 and died without issue. 

October 30, 2011 Update:  Similar views in paintings by Canaletto:

Canaletto, The Piazza San Marco, Looking East (c. 1723)Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Photo: Jose Loren

Canaletto, Piazza San Marco, Looking East, c. 1730-1735

December 28, 2013 Update: This month, Canaletto's Venice, a View of Piazza San Marco, Venice, Looking East Towards the Basilica, as it is now being called, was offered for sale again, this time along with the artist's Venice, the Grand Canal Looking North-East from the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin to the Rialto Bridge. These paintings look superb together and it's encouraging that Sotheby's London didn't try to break them up.
Canaletto,Venice, a View of Piazza San Marco Looking East Towards the Basilica, and Venice, the Grand Canal Looking North-East from the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin to the Rialto Bridge

Canaletto, Venice, a View of Piazza San Marco Looking East Towards the Basilica, as framed

Canaletto, Venice, the Grand Canal Looking North-East from the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin to the Rialto Bridge, as framed

Canaletto, Venice, a View of Piazza San Marco Looking East Towards the Basilica

Canaletto, Venice, the Grand Canal Looking North-East from the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin to the Rialto Bridge



  1. There is a Canaletto painting "Piazza San Marco" at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, India. It has been there for several decades, and I heard that it is still there. Is the one featured above a different one? I know Canaletto painted several pictures of San Marco square.

    I would very much like to see a print of the Hyderabad one. The Museum website does not feature this. Canaletto website shows several paintings, but I cannot recognise the Hyderabad one. I have been there three times and spent hours just looking at this one painting - it is so beautiful.


  2. Canaletto painted a number of pictures of the Piazza San Marco, and a few are quite similar to this one. As the sale I have shown took place in 1995, I don't think this can be the version that has been displayed for decades in the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad.