CANALETTO
(b. 1697, Venezia, d. 1768, Venezia)

London: Seen Through an Arch of Westminster Bridge

1746-47
Oil on canvas, 57 x 95 cm
Private collection

This very bold composition, with a view of the Thames framed by an arch of the bridge, influenced the work of a number of native English artists. It may have been inspired by a print by Piranesi, published in the early 1740s.

The arch has been used carefully so that it does not flatten the image. It is placed just off centre, looked through at a slight angle, and the uniformity of its shape is broken by the simple device of a bucket being lowered on a rope. It acts like a giant eye or lens and focuses attention on the cityscape beyond, which includes the Water Tower and York Water Gate at the left, and St Paul's Cathedral at the right. In the centre can be seen the spire of the church of St Clement Danes. The delicate peach coloration of the clouds above, suggests this is a rare instance of Canaletto attempting to depict dusk.

The painting is thought to have been commissioned by Sir Hugh Smithson, who was to become the Duke of Northumberland. He was one of those responsible for overseeing the construction of the new bridge.