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Piazza San Marco – the Northeast Corner; The Piazetta – Looking East, with the Ducal Palace


oil on canvas

20 x 41 cm


oil on canvas

20 x 41 cm

A pair of intimate Venetian views by Canaletto was sold by Nicholas Hall on behalf of a private collector.

(Presumably) Sir Richard Neave, 1st Bt. (1731-1814), London and Dagnam Park, Havering, Essex; by descent through his son, Sir Thomas Neave, 2nd Bt. (1761-1848) to the latter’s great-grandson

Sir Thomas Lewis Neave, 5th Bt. (1874-1940); by descent to his son

Sir Arundell Neave, 6th Bt. (1916-1992); by whom taken in 1947 from Dagnam to Llysdulas, Dulas, Anglesey, and subsequently to Altramont, Co. Wexford and to Pelham Place, Alton, Hampshire; by descent

with Simon Dickinson, London, 2006

Private collection, Europe

with Nicholas Hall, New York, by 2018

acquired by a Private Collection from the above


(Possibly) London, British Institution, Catalogue of the pictures of the Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch and English school, 1824, no. 142 (as ‘View in Venice’, ie. either picture, or Constable, nos. 71, 92 or 176); lent by Sir Thomas Neave).

(Probably) London, British Institution, Catalogue of the pictures of the Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French, and English Masters with which the Proprietors have Favoured the Institution, June 1864, no. 133 (as ‘Doges Palace’, the second; lent by Sir R. Digby Neave).


W.G. Constable, Canaletto, Oxford, 1962, I, p. 136, note 3, pl. 25 (the second), I, pp. 201, no. 46 and 213, no 74; 2nd ed. revised by J.G. Links, Oxford, 1976, and 3rd ed., Oxford, 1989, I, pp. lxxxv, 136 n. 3, and pl. 25 (the second); II, pp. 205-206, no. 46, p. 220, no. 74, 727 and 728.

Lionello Puppi, L’Opera Completa del Canaletto, Milan, 1968, pp. 104, no. 150B, p. 106, no. 150B, no. 184 (the second, reproduced incorrectly as number 183), reproduced.

Joseph Gluckstein Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto, London, 1997, p. 7, no. 46, p. 9, no. 74 , pl. 232 (the first), reproduced.

Charles Beddington, “Canaletto in England,” Canaletto in England, A Venetian Artist Abroad, 1746-1755, exh. cat., New Haven and Dulwich, 2006-7, p. 11.

A. Bradley, “City and Ceremony” in Canaletto and his Rivals, exh. cat., London and Washington, 2010, pp. 159-160, fig. 60 (the first), reproduced.


These elegant and animated Venetian views on an intimate scale by Canaletto exemplify both the refinement and the originality of the painter’s work in his latter years, and are, rather surprisingly, one of only two such pairs on this scale to be recorded.

The view of the Piazza San Marco shows, from the left, the eight eastern-most bays of the Procuratie Vecchie, begun in 1513, the Torre dell’ Orologio, designed by Mauro Codussi and finished in 1499 but with the additions completed in 1755, the houses on the northern side of the Campo di San Basso, with a campanile (San Zulian?) behind, the left half of the façade of the Basilica, and, framing the composition, the north-west corner of the Campanile. In the companion picture, the lateral (west) façade of the Doge’s Palace, begun in 1422, is shown with, the south-west corner of the Tesoro of the Basilica to the left with the Porta della Carta of 1438 by the Bon brothers in shadows, the buildings lining the Riva degli Schiavone in steep perspective on the right, and the Column of Saint Mark on the extreme right. As so often with pairs of Venetian views by the artist, the viewpoints are in a sense complementary, as parts of each composition could be seen at different angles from the viewpoints of the other, respectively on a diagonal two thirds of the way across the Piazza and immediately in front of Sansovino’s Libreria. The fall of the shadows indicates that the San Marco view is shown in late morning light, while that of the Doge’s Palace is seen in the afternoon.

As Constable wrote in 1962, that these canvases belonged to a group of thirty in the same sparkling style, which he supposed to be of the ‘earlier’ 1740s. Links in the 1974 edition (I, p. lxxxv and II, p. 360) correctly recognized that these works were in fact painted after Canaletto’s final return from London to Venice in 1755. Decisive evidence of this is established by the inclusion in the first canvas, and in three other views by the artist, respectively at Los Angeles, Sarasota and Dulwich (Constable, nos. 54, 41 and 534), of the third story additions to the Torre dell’Orologio by the leading Venetian architect of the day, Giorgio Massari (1687-1766), the removal of the builders’ scaffold from which is recorded in Pietro Gradenigo’s diary on 2 March 1755. That Canaletto recorded Massari’s alterations in four compositions demonstrates that he was interested in architectural developments as well as in topographical accuracy. And it is fascinating to see how in the Neave picture he carefully selected a slightly different viewpoint from that of his much larger canvas, datable to the early 1740s, of the same group of buildings, formerly at Farnborough and now at Ottawa, which in turn was based on a drawing in the Royal Collection (Constable, nos. 45 and 539), moving further out into the Piazza.

For like other great artists, Canaletto as he reached his sixties, continued to probe the possibilities of his medium and to search for new forms of expression. He was still capable of supplying masterpieces of considerable scale, as the four magnificent Streit canvasses at Berlin prove. But clearly he also liked to work on a smaller scale, perhaps influenced by the demands of those who bought his pictures: here there is an interesting parallel with his younger contemporary Francesco Guardi who turned to topography within a year or two of Canaletto’s return to Venice and who throughout his career achieved particularly sparkling effects when working on a small scale. Canaletto was less dependent on assistants than in the past, partly because he received fewer orders; his touch became lighter and freer, his figures brilliantly indicated by controlled dots and dabs of paint (fig. 1), that make one wonder if he had studied Vermeer’s Lady and Gentleman at the Virginals (Royal Collection), then in the possession of Consul Joseph Smith but shortly to be sold with the rest of his collection to King George III. Michael Levey defined the quality of the best of the artist’s late pictures in his analysis of the Piazza San Marco (London, National Gallery): ‘small in scale but of a fierce clarity and compressed energy: a painting that offers evidence of how age only increased Canaletto’s artistic assurance’ (‘Artist of the Urban Scene’, in the exhibition catalogue, Canaletto, New York, 1989, p. 29). The same qualities can be experienced in the ex-Neave canvasses, and in the pair formerly in the Watney and Champalimaud collections (Christie’s London, 5 July 2005, lot 15, Constable, nos. 72 and 25), conceived and executed in the same vein, and of similar size (23 x 40 cm.). Late works by Canaletto were less often copied than those of his earlier time, so it is telling that copies of both the Neave pictures have surfaced: one of the view of the Piazza, formerly at Gatchina, was drawn to the compiler’s notice by Taco Dibitts in 2004, while that of the view of the Piazzetta, to which some birds were added and in which the column is cut, formerly with Jacob Heimann in Munich, was lent to the Feste Veneziane exhibition at Venice in 1937 (no. 10 bis, Constable, under no. 74). Both these copies were presumably made in Venice before the originals were dispatched to England. That Guardi was to paint at least eight views of the Torre dell’ Orologio from similar viewpoints may, or may not, be coincidental.

Fig 1. Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid (detail), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

These pictures were part of a group of ten formerly owned by the Neave family. Although none of these were documented before the loan of one to the British Institution in 1824 by Sir Thomas Neave, 2nd Bt. (1761-1848), the plausible family tradition was that these were acquired by his father, Richard Neave (1731-1814), who was created a baronet in 1795. Neave, whose father and grandfather were both London merchants, greatly enhanced the fortune of his family. He was a director of the Bank of England for nearly half a century, served as Governor from 1783, and was Chairman of the Society of West Indian Merchants, which had considerable political influence and represented the interests of the sugar trade. He employed George Gibson, an architect who ‘had good connections among the wealthy merchants of the City’ (cf. H. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, London, 1978, p. 345) to design his office in Broad Street, his London residence on 6 Albemarle Street, and after his acquisition of the estate in 1772, his new seat, Dagnam Park in Essex. He was portrayed by Zoffany in van Dyck costume in or about 1761; and commissioned an exceptional full-length portrait of himself and his wife, Frances Bristow, whom he married in 1761, from Gainsborough (Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, on loan): the interaction between the two implies an unusually close human and intellectual bond. Although an earlier portrait of him was at one time attributed to Batoni, there is no evidence that Neave made the Grand Tour. But his interest in Italian pictures is also implied by his apparent ownership of a characteristic landscape of his English years by Francesco Zuccarelli. Sir Thomas is not known to have collected pictures, although he and his wife were both portrayed by the young Lawrence in 1793 and he was to prove an uncongenial and exacting patron to the young David Wilkie, whose family group of the Neaves and their children is dated 1810: a sense of economy as much as East Anglian links may explain why Sir Thomas subsequently employed John Constable to supply conventional portraits of his elder sons.

While most of Canaletto’s earlier patrons had tended to order pictures of more or less uniform size, Richard Neave clearly had different requirements, presumably with the spaces of a particular room or sequence of rooms in mind. As Beddington states, he acquired two pairs, respectively of views of Rome and Venice, which date from the artist’s London years, as most probably does the Capriccio of the Scuola di San Marco from the Loggia of the Palazzo Grifalconi-Loredan (Constable, nos. 394, 401 (both 151/2 by 27 in.), 84, 318 (both 18 by 30in.), and 467 (35 by 53in)). The Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome (Constable, no. 397), of the same size as the capriccio, which served as an overmantel when eight of the pictures were hung together at Pelham Place, was painted somewhat later, at the end of the English period or after the artist’s return to Venice: it was presumably intended to hang between the pair of Roman views. This pair and two larger pendant Venetian views (Constable, nos. 71 and 176, measuring 19 1/2 by 39 in.) were painted after Canaletto’s return to Venice. That the Libreria is shown in one of the larger pair from a viewpoint almost precisely across the Piazzetta from that of the view of the Doge’s Palace, suggests that the selection of subjects was carefully planned. The presumption must be that Neave required additional pictures when, he projected a larger Drawing Room, for which this pair was presumably been intended to be hung below a larger pair, very possibly on either side of a chimneypiece.

Neave would have been by no means the only patron who did not make the Grand Tour to acquire views of Venice and Rome. There is no evidence that his parents had been interested in pictures, so it may be that his patronage owed something to the connections that led to his marriage in 1761 to Frances, fourth daughter of John Bristow, M.P. (1701-1768), of Mark Lane, Fenchurch Street and Quidenham, Norfolk. Bristow belonged to a well-established city family. His eldest brother, Robert, also a Member of Parliament, inherited their father’s estate at Micheldever, Hampshire: his sister Rebecca was an early patron of Alan Ramsay, who also portrayed Robert’s son, George; while his second brother, William (1699-1758), derided by Horace Walpole as the ‘mock virtuoso Billy Bristow’, was a significant collector, who visited Italy in 1736-37 where he was involved in the tortuous commission for Batoni’s early masterpiece, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (Wemyss Collection, on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland) and subsequently purchased a substantial number of pictures. These included the celebrated family group by Frans Hals (Madrid, Thyssen Museo) which was acquired at his posthumous sale in 1768 with other works by the nephew-by-marriage and son-in-law of his elder brother, John Warde (1721-1775) of Squerries, Kent, whose family belonged to the same city nexus and who was also a patron of Zuccarelli. John Bristow chose the most successful English portraitist of the day, Thomas Hudson, to paint a group portrait of his family. He was also a business associate of Sir George Colebroke, perhaps the most discriminating collector of pictures associated with the City at the time. His marriage thus linked Neave with the closely interwoven world of patrons and collectors associated with the city, while, as those of his wife’s sisters, Anne Margaret and Caroline respectively to the Hon. Henry Hobart, M.P. and William Henry Lyttleton, later 1st Lord Lyttleton show, it also marked a significant stage in the social elevation of his own family.❖

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