In 2021, the Holburne Museum in Bath will present the most important set of paintings of Venice by Canaletto (1697 – 1768), which will leave their home at Woburn Abbey – one of world’s most important private art collections – for the first time in more than 70 years.
Running from 22 January to 5 September 2021, this once in a lifetime exhibition will enable art lovers to enjoy and study up-close twenty-three beautiful paintings, in a fascinating exhibition that also explores Canaletto’s life and work, alongside themes of 18th-century Venice and the Grand Tour.
This is one of the rare occasions that any of the successive Dukes of Bedford and Trustees of the Bedford Estates have lent the set of paintings since they arrived in Britain from Canaletto in the 1730s.
The paintings were commissioned by the 4th Duke of Bedford, who was evidently attracted by Canaletto’s burgeoning reputation for producing precise and atmospheric views of the Italian city’s most iconic views and landmarks. The Duke, then Lord John Russell, was in Venice on the Grand Tour in 1731, and presumably met Joseph Smith, Canaletto’s newly appointed agent, who was a Venetian resident and later British consul there
Created over a four-year period, when the artist was at the pinnacle of his career, the Woburn Abbey paintings are the largest set of paintings that Canaletto ever produced, and much the largest that has remained together. The Holburne Museum exhibition provides a unique and unprecedented opportunity to see these exceptional paintings at viewing height, as they normally hang three high in the setting in the Dining Room they have occupied at Woburn since the late eighteenth century. The set features not only classic views of the Grand Canal and the Piazza S. Marco but also some of the city’s less well-known nooks and crannies, rarely captured by other artists and revealing new historical and cultural perspectives on Venice in its last decades as the “most serene Republic”.
Combining both his eye for accuracy and composition, Canaletto: Painting Venice celebrates some of La Serenissima’s most recognisable views, whilst also referring to the city’s historical importance as a trading centre, not least with the Ottoman Empire and other eastern nations.