Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) (1697-1768), A View of Walton Bridge

Artist: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768

Title: A View of Walton Bridge

Date: 1754

Medium: oil on canvas

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK

EMu user since 2003



Canaletto, A View of Walton BridgeGiovanni Antonio Canal, or Canaletto, is best known for his sparkling views of Venice painted for the tourist market, but here the painter’s view is a matter-of-fact record of modern life in the Home Counties of England. The wooden bridge over the river Thames at Walton had been constructed in 1750 to a daringly high-tech design by William Etheridge, commissioned by Samuel Dicker MP, whose house is on the opposite bank. A coach crosses it; a boat lowers its mast to pass underneath the span. The dark green of the
ground, the complex grey cloud-mass with evening light breaking across it, these subtly-observed effects convey the smell of damp grass in the air during a changeable English summer. The atmosphere is heavy, but the touch is light and decorative.

Thomas Hollis, the Whig MP who ordered the painting (one of Canaletto’s last major English patrons), appears in the foreground, along with his friend Thomas Brand, his Italian servant, and his dog, Malta. This is a portrait of a specific person and a specific place. Canaletto even inserts himself as the artist on the stool, faithfully recording what is in front of him.

august2However, according to an inscription on the reverse of the original canvas, the work was painted in London in 1754. It is now generally accepted that the subject was chosen by Hollis from a drawing made when the bridge was first opened. The bridge was depicted by Canaletto in another painting and a drawing (both at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven); these show a long, raised causeway leading to the bridge, which was omitted in the Dulwich painting. The bridge decayed and was demolished in 1780, to be rebuilt in stone and brick.