Fl. 1754-1771 | British
Grand Canal, Venice, looking southeast from Santa Stae to the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto
Oil on canvas
The legendary Venetian Grand Canal is the subject of this brightly-hued scene by the 18th-century British artist William James, whose highly detailed canvases earned him a reputation among the leading painters of Venice of his day. In the present work, he captures the view from Santa Stae towards the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto with technical mastery. The scene is perfectly composed down to the smallest detail, from the architectural grandeur of the 16th-century Palazzo Barbarigo to the charming cast of characters who brings this view to life.
Like many of James' compositions, this oil on canvas is based on a similar work by the great Canaletto, undoubtedly the most famous painter of Venetian views of all time; his view of the Grand Canal from San Stae dates to circa 1738 and is held in the Paul G. Allen Family Collection (Seattle, WA). Paying tribute to the master, James captures a similar vantage point, even mimicking many of Canaletto's figures, including the maiden in the balcony window in the upper left. However, where Canaletto's composition is rife with brown, tan and blue hues, James' oil comes to life with a far lighter, more vivid palette. His interpretation of these Venetian facades is awash in crimson reds and bright whites. Though less true to life, the resulting effect is both brilliant and enlivening, making the work a compelling example of James' unique style.
Active in London between 1754 and 1771, very little is known about James’ personal life. What is known is that he never left England, relying on the images of other artists to create his own unique interpretations. A student of the London artist Samuel Scott, he was also a pupil of Canaletto, who undoubtedly had a tremendous influence on James' output. His works gained him a great deal of attention, and he exhibited at the Society of Artists of Great Britain from 1761 to 1768 and at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1771. He was invited to become a member of the Society of Artists in 1766; today, his works are represented in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Canvas: 23 3/4” high x 38” wide
Frame: 29” high x 43 1/4” wide
Frost & Reed, London, no. 53660S
Private collection, United Kingdom, by 1978