Richard Parkes Bonington

View of the Piazzetta near the Square of St Mark, Venice

1827, exhibited 1828

Not on display
Richard Parkes Bonington 1802–1828
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 457 x 375 mm
Presented by Robert Vernon 1847


Bonington visited Venice only once, in the spring of 1826, but it had a great 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. He made innumerable pencil and oil sketches on the spot, some of which formed the basis of later works in oil and watercolour. View of the Piazzetta was based on a large study in graphite on grey-green paper, now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

The view is dominated by the column of St Mark in the Piazzetta, with the column of St Theodore to the right, rising against a corner of the Libraria. In the distance are the domes of Santa Maria della Salute. The picture has been criticised by modern commentators for the linear treatment of the architecture and the rather cursory handling of aerial perspective. However, the unusual viewpoint and the colouring - especially the pink of the columns against the intense blue of the sky - lend the picture a sense of drama. Bonington has skillfully captured the play of light on the buildings; and the fresh palette, golden light and long shadows give the impression of a late spring afternoon in Italy.

The picture was exhibited, along with Venice: Ducal Palace with a Religious Procession (Tate N05789) at the British Institution in 1828 and received mixed reviews. The Literary Gazette considered that Bonington's execution was 'masterly' (Literary Gazette, 9 February 1828), but the London Weekly Review described View of the Piazzetta as 'miserably cold and meagre' (London Weekly Review, 23 February 1828). Although Bonington was relatively unknown in England at this date, his work had recently been absorbed into two important English collections and the picture was soon bought by the notable collector Robert Vernon. When Vernon died in 1847 he bequeathed a selection of his paintings to the National Gallery, including View of the Piazzetta, which became the first work by Bonington to enter a public collection in England.

Further reading:
Robin Hamlyn, Robert Vernon's Gift - British Art for the Nation, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, p.36, no.8, reproduced p.36.
Patrick Noon, Richard Parkes Bonington 'On the Pleasure of Painting', exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven and London 1991, pp.256-7, reproduced p.257, in colour.

Frances Fowle
December 2000

Display caption

Bonington was born near Nottingham, though he trained at the atelier of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros in Paris. Later he travelled around Europe building up a reputation as a watercolourist. He painted this view on his only trip to Venice in 1826. It shows the column of St Mark in the centre, with the column of St Theodore to the right. In the distance are the domes of Santa Maria della Salute. The painting received mixed reviews when it was exhibited at the British Institution in 1828. One critic described it as ‘miserably cold and meagre’.

Gallery label, September 2004

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