What has all this to do with art? Well, often the art and architecture of France and Italy especially, were the main drawing card for these tours. And, in an age before picture postcards and genuine Italian/Taiwanese souvenirs, many of these wealthy globe trotters carted off the real thing--original oil paintings, Roman artifacts, sculpture, even whole rooms and buildings. It was a buyer beware market of course, and many an eighteenth and nineteenth century "robber baron" found themselves, when they got home, having paid good money for bad copies, but then, perhaps they got what they deserved. In the area of painting, an entire cadre of painters (also engravers for the economy-minded) developed to satisfy the "Grand Tourist" desiring to take home a painted memory of Venice, Rome, or Naples. And in spite of the fact that they were essentially cranking out large-scale, high-class, picture postcards, many of them were actually quite good.
|Grand Canal and the Church|
of the Salute, 1730, Canaletto
One of the best was Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. Born in 1746, in Venice, his work became so popular with British clients, his dealer (yes, even back then there were agents) arranged for him to spend nine years painting in England, the views of London and the nearby countryside presumably to satisfy those touring the British Isles. A typical Canaletto painting is not large, perhaps in the range of about 18"x30", no doubt to make them easy for the 18th century "tourist" to take home. And when we see them in reproduction today there is a very definite picture postcard quality to them--perfect perspective, perfect sunny day lighting, dramatic angles, and almost endless, exquisite, minute detail--all this on barely 4 square feet of canvas.
|Northumberland House, London, |