In October 1697, in the Venitian Republic, known today as Italy, Giovanni Antonio Canal was born. His mother was Artemisia Barbieri, and his father was Bernardo Canal, a painter of theatrical scenes. Since he followed in Bernardo’s footsteps, the Italian painter became known as Canaletto - meaning “little Canal.” He and his sibling learned the art of painting scenery with their father. Inspired by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Canaletto went to Rome and began to portray what he saw in the cities everyday life. The first painting he signed is dated in the year of 1723 was titled Architectural Capriccio and beautifully defines his topographical style, but it is known that he began to work in this way since he returned home from Rome, in 1719. During this period, Canaletto was studying how to depict cityscapes with Luca Carlevarijs, known for his urban paintings.
During Canaletto’s career, he portrayed views of London, Rome, and Venice, mixing reality with his own imaginary view and distortions of the scene. The artist’s approach to landscape and cityscape painting during the beginning of his career was quite different than most artists of the time since it was expected of painters to work inside their studio, while Canaletto preferred to work outdoors and in nature. The Stonemason’s Yard, although filled with details, is an example of the simplicity the artist used to portray a part of his city, resulting in a fine and beautiful piece of art. Along with oil painting, Canaletto was an excellent printmaker, working with metal etching.
During this time, many British aristocrats were embarking on an adventure they called the grand tour, which consisted on visiting a number of locations in Europe to learn about art and culture. Canaletto’s studio became an important stop for many of these rich entrepreneurs on the grand tour, who would acquire paintings of the places they visited as a souvenir of their trip. By 1728, the artist had become close to Joseph Smith who eventually became his main patron. The British businessman who lived in Venice at the time helped Canaletto sell his artwork to influential and wealthy clients, like King George II who purchased an extensive collection of paintings, drawings, and etchings in 1762.
In 1746, the Italian artist moved to London, which he stayed for about ten years, portraying the many sights he came across. After the War of the Austrian Succession bursts, the number of visitors in Venice lowers dramatically, leaving Canaletto no choice but to move closer to his clients. The artist continued completing commissions of castles and houses for his clients, but after many years his work became a bit repetitive and mechanical.
By the end of his career, Canaletto moved back to his hometown, where he spent his final days painting. In 1763, he was elected into the prestigious Academy of Venice. He would often use his old sketches to complete finished paintings, but would also make brand new artworks with daring compositions and altered topography. Canaletto died on April 19th, 1768.