Summary

Bonington visited Venice only once, in the spring of 1826, but it had a huge impact on his work. He travelled there via Paris, Milan and Verona, arriving in the city by mid April and remaining for about a month. During his stay he made innumerable pencil and oil sketches on the spot, some of which formed the basis of later works in oil and watercolour.

Bonington made several sketches of the architecture of the Doge's Palace from the Riva degli Schiavoni. This picture appears to have been the culminating version of several related works, including an initial pencil study (private collection), a watercolour (Wallace Collection), which focuses on the disposition of light and dark masses within the composition, and an oil painting (Louvre) which is an elaboration of the watercolour.

This is the largest known work by Bonington. The view stretches from the Dogana and the church of Santa Maria della Salute in the far-left distance to the prison in the right foreground. Bonington purposely enlarged the foreground, not only to include the religious precession, but to create a composition that relates to the Venetian vedute tradition of painting landscape views or panoramas. He stresses the vanishing point through the sharply foreshortened barge, the quayside pavement and the market stall, and these are balanced by the receding perspective of the Palace. Some of the figures appear to have been based on individual studies. For example, the young woman in a wide-brimmed hat, seated in the foreground, is adapted from an earlier sketch of a Swiss girl from Meyringen (1826, Calne, Wiltshire, Bowood House).

The picture was exhibited, along with View of the Piazzetta near the Square of St Mark, Venice (Tate N00374), at the British Institution in 1828 and received enthusiastic reviews. It was praised by London Weekly Review, whose critic regarded its 'deep blue sky, the gloomy Palladian architecture and the scenic groups of the characteristic figures in the foreground' as 'uniquely Venetian' (London Weekly Review, 23 February 1828). The Literary Gazette considered that Bonington's execution was 'masterly' and noted that 'if it possessed a little more sunniness of effect, this fine picture might challenge comparison with the finest of Canaletti's works' (Literary Gazette, 9 February 1828).

Further reading:
Malcolm Cormack, Bonington, London 1989, p.128, reproduced p.129.
Patrick Noon, Richard Parkes Bonington 'On the Pleasure of Painiting', exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven and London 1991, pp.72-4.

Frances Fowle
December 2000