Framed Dimensions:105.5 x 147 cm. (41 1/2 x 57 7/8 in.)
Provenance:Private Collection, Milan;
Private Collection, Kansas City.
Charles Beddington, Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy & a masterpiece by Francesco Guardi, London, 2014, no.4.
London, Charles Beddington Ltd, Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy & a masterpiece by Francesco Guardi, 2014, cat. no. 4. illustrated.
Further information:The 'Lyon Master' was named by the present writer in 2005 after a view of The Grand Canal, looking North from the Ca' Rezzonico to the Palazzo Balbi in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, which until then had been universally considered to be by Bernardo Bellotto (1). It was one of the few Venetian views unreservedly accepted by W.G. Constable as the work of Bellotto(2), and one of only six accepted unequivocally by Stefan Kozakiewicz in his standard monograph on the artist(3). Furthermore, a corresponding drawing certainly by Bellotto is in the Hessisches Landesmuseum at Darmstadt(4). The attribution of the Lyon painting to Bellotto had already been questioned by the present writer in 2002, along with that of two other paintings then attributed to Bellotto which may now be seen to be the work of the Lyon Master(5).
The present writer wrote of the Lyon painting in 2005: 'The painting is strongly Bellottesque, indeed it reveals a profound understanding of the earliest style of the notably precocious artist. The light is cold and wintry, the tone dark and sombre, with sharp contrasts between brightly lit façades and dark shadows. There is a clear fondness for black, a colour particularly favoured by Bellotto, and the colouring of the clothes of the figures is also consistent with his. The sky is clearly applied in diagonal strokes from lower left to upper right, a characteristic of Bellotto's early technique, and the clouds, which lie in a band across the lower half of the sky, are similar to his in resembling drifts of icing sugar. There is extensive use of incising, and Bellotto's technique for depicting decaying stucco over brick is imitated in the walls of the buildings on the Campo S. Samuele on the right. His youthful tendency to depict boats as skating across the surface of water, rather than sitting in it, is also evident....[However] many features indicate a distinct artistic personality. The painter's approach is less painterly and more linear than Bellotto's, with a resultant lack of solidity in the buildings....The water, which is not articulated by Bellotto's formula for ripples, is murky, and the depiction of reflections comparatively unsophisticated. Bright dashes of white are used to show the surface being broken by oars or the prows of boats. The tone is even darker and more sombre than is customary for Bellotto. The tiny figures are less Canalettesque than his are, and rather boneless in appearance; they wield exaggeratedly long oars. Another distinctive trait is the invariably bright highlighting of these and of the thwarts of the otherwise uniformly dark boats'.
The present writer was able to identify in 2005 ten other Venetian views as the work of the same hand, including a Piazza San Marco, looking West in the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse (datable before 1742); a pair showing The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking East from the Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, with Santa Maria della Salute and The Molo, looking West from the Bacino di San Marco towards the Entrance to the Grand Canal sold at auction in London in December 2000 as the work of Bellotto (which have a highly original nocturnal effect)(6), and a pair showing The Molo from the Bacino di San Marco and The Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore(7). Surprisingly few examples have come to light since then(8). A pair showing The Grand Canal at the entrance to the Cannaregio with San Geremia and the Palazzo Labia and The Molo, looking West from the Bacino di San Marco towards the Entrance to the Grand Canal (the latter a variant of that sold at auction in London in 2000) was sold at auction in London in December 2010(9). A view of The Grand Canal, looking South-West from the Rialto Bridge was sold at auction in Milan in 2006(10), and a view of The Grand Canal, looking East from Santa Maria della Carità to the Bacino di San Marco was shown at the European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht in 2007(11).
To those may be added this painting, apparently previously unrecorded, which is one of the painter's most ambitious works, in its highly original atmosphere and unusually large size. Most paintings by the Lyon Master are quite small, and the only example of comparable dimensions to this is the 'name' painting in Lyon. That is, in fact, of identical size and may have originally been the pendant to the exhibited work. Versions of the composition of the exhibited painting are known by both Canaletto and Bellotto, both of distinctly smaller size. That by Canaletto formed part of a set of four Venetian views executed for Charles Paulet, 3rd Duke of Bolton (1685-1754) and later owned by the Clarke-Jervoise family, which were first fully published by George Knox in 1993(12). Datable on stylistic grounds to c. 1737, they are now dispersed in private collections. Bellotto painted versions of at least three of them, presumably in c. 1737-8; that of the present composition re-emerged at auction in 2019(13). The Lyon Master must have been intimately acquainted with that, if not Canaletto's version as well, but his rendition of the composition is anything but a copy. Apart from numerous differences of detail, including many of the colours of the costumes, he transforms the atmosphere of the scene by showing it just after a storm has passed. As the turbulent rainclouds recede, the façades are struck by a glaring light, and that of the Doge's Palace has rainwater trickling from the corners of the windows. While the Lyon Master was presumably young when he painted this, his imagination and willingness to attempt something very different from his illustrious master are quite remarkable. The Lyon Master was to return to the composition, on a smaller scale, as the right-hand two-thirds of the Molo views sold at auction in London in 2000 and 2010.
The Lyon Master was clearly Bellotto's closest associate in Canaletto's studio, intimately acquainted with Bellotto's style, technique, and compositions. Like Bellotto in his very early years he only paints Venetian views. In 2005 the present writer was inclined to date his known work between c. 1740 and
c. 1744. Since then, however, Bellotto's precocity has become all the more apparent, and it is appropriate to bring forward the dating of the Lyon Master's work, which is surely absolutely contemporaneous with Bellotto's early views, in line with those. But the question remains: who was this strikingly original artist, contemporary with Bellotto, with a highly individual character, real ability and a particular interest in unusual effects of light, but a known oeuvre which can only have taken him a few years to complete, and who must have stopped painting by the mid-1740s? The only possible identifiable candidate, albeit highly surprising as he is not known at all as a painter, is the famous etcher Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778). Bellotto's senior by two years, Piranesi's first collection of prints was published in Rome in July 1743. Born in Mogliano Veneto near Mestre, Piranesi was in Venice until September 1740, from May until probably September 1744, and from July 1745 until September 1747. The earlier dates, before his career as an etcher got underway, could correspond with the activity of the Lyon Master with some precision.
There is little documentary evidence of Piranesi's occupations during his early, Venetian years, but his biographers refer to his youthful work as a painter. Jacques-Guillaume Legrand (1753-1809) relates that while Piranesi was learning etching from Giuseppe Vasi (1710-82) in Rome in about 1742, Vasi would comment to Piranesi 'Vous être trop peintre, mon ami, pour être jamais graveur';(14) substantiating this reference to Piranesi as a painter Legrand continues 'Souvent il avait le désir de reprendre la peinture qu'il avait déjà pratiquée dans la manière de Benedetto Castiglione, de Piazzetta, du Tiepolo et de Canaletto sous lesquels il avait peint et dessiné.'(15) Gian Ludovico Bianconi records that on his return to Venice (penniless) in 1744, Piranesi had to content himself with being able to 'vendere le sue prospettive alla meglio ...'; 'prospettive' could refer to either his early Roman prints or to Venetian views.(16) We know that Piranesi certainly made drawings of Venetian views, as in a surviving letter of 25 November 1747, the architect (and friend and prospective biographer of Piranesi) Tommaso Temanza asks Piranesi for a copy of his drawing of the Rialto which he had seen and wants in connection with his projected history of Venetian architecture.(17)
In his essay ''troppo pittore ... per essere incisore' - Piranesi's origins as a vedutista: the impact of Canaletto and Bellotto', Francesco Nevola has analysed compositional debts in Piranesi's etchings to specific works by Canaletto and Bellotto, including the former's drawings of Rome of 1719-20 in the British Museum (which would not have been accessible to anybody outside the Canaletto workshop) and the latter's painting of The Campidoglio and Santa Maria in Aracoeli of 1743 (Petworth House)(18). He also points out the similarity in technique of Piranesi's earliest known drawings with that practiced in the Canaletto workshop. The apparently close relationship between Piranesi and Bellotto is indeed such that a reunion with his colleague may have been one source of motivation for Bellotto's visit to Rome in the spring of 1742, and that it may be no coincidence that Piranesi's emergence as an etcher immediately precedes both Canaletto's and Bellotto's first adoption of the technique. It may also be noted that the series of fourteen views of Rome executed by Bellotto with the assistance of his son Lorenzo in Warsaw in c. 1769 almost all follow prints by Piranesi. Nevola promises that 'all the correspondences found so far in works by Piranesi with those of Canaletto and Bellotto ... will at a later date be the subject of a further study wherein the possibility is presented that for a time, early in his career, Piranesi played an anonymous role in Canaletto's studio'.
1. C. Beddington, 'Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy, Part 2: The Lyon Master and Pietro Bellotti', The Burlington Magazine, CXLVII, No. 1222, January 2005,
pp. 16-21 and 25.
2. W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, London, 1962, II, under no.202.
3. S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, Recklinghausen and London, 1972, II, no.12. Kozakiewicz's attribution of another of these was also, in fact, incorrect, a view of The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking East from the Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, with Santa Maria della Salute which is to be offered at Im Kinsky, Vienna,
24 June 2014, lot 524.
4. Ibid., no.13; M. Bleyl, Bernardo Bellotto genannt Canaletto: Zeichnungen aus dem Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Darmstadt, 1981, no.13. For the relationship between that and sketches by Canaletto in the Accademia sketchbook, see J.G. Links in W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, 2nd ed. revised by J.G. Links, Oxford, 1976, II, under no. 202.
5. C. Beddington, Review of the exhibition catalogue Settecento: Le siècle de Tiepolo. Peintures italiennes du XVIII siècle exposées dans les collections publiques françaises, by Olivier Bonfait et al., The Burlington Magazine, CXLIV, No. 1190, May 2002, p. 301. The other two paintings were the pair sold at Sotheby's in 2000 (see below).
6. Sotheby's, London, 14 December 2000, lot 90, as Bernardo Bellotto; since then with Colnaghi.
7. Sold at Christie's, London, 12 December 1986, lots 97-8, as 'Circle of Bernardo Bellotto'; the former was offered at Sotheby's, New York, 3 June 1988, lot 68, and Sotheby's, Monaco, 2 December 1989, lot 345, as Bernardo Bellotto. All five of these paintings are illustrated in colour in the 2005 article, along with provenances and previous literature.
8. This is in striking contrast with the oeuvre of the other painter discussed by the present writer in the 2005 article, Pietro Bellotti, which it has been possible to expand to the degree that a monographic exhibition has recently taken place.
9. Bonhams, London, 8 December 2010, lot 85.
10. Sotheby's, Milan, 28 November 2006, lot 351, as 'Scuola Veneta, Secolo XVIII'.
11. With a certificate by Dario Succi as Bernardo Bellotto.
12. G. Knox, 'Four Canaletti for the Duke of Bolton and two 'Aide-memoire'', Apollo, CXXXVIII, no. 380 (New Series), October 1993, pp. 245-9. See also J.G. Links,
A Supplement to W.G. Constable's Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, London, 1998, pp. 9-10, no. 85**, and pp. 14-15, under no. 133*.
13. Christie's, London, 4 July 2019, lot 40.
14. 'You are too much a painter, my friend, to ever be an etcher' (J.-G. Legrand, 'Notice Historique sue la Vie et les Ouvrages de J.-B. Pirannèse', Ms, c. 1799, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MSS. Nouv. Acq. Fr. 5968; ed. G. Erouart and
M. Mosser in 'A propos de la 'Notice Historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de
J.B. Piranesi': origine et fortune d'une biographie' in Piranesè et les Français: colloque tenu à la Villa Medicis, 12-14 mai 1976, ed. G. Brunel, Rome, 1978, p. 223; also ed. R. Lambert in Piranèse, Les Prisons: Présentation par Marguerite Yourcenar. Suivi de la vie de Piranèse par Jacques-Guillaume Legrand, Paris, 1999, p. 98).
15. 'He frequently wished to return to painting, which he had already practiced in the manner of Benedetto Castiglione, of Piazzetta, of Tiepolo and of Canaletto under whom he had painted and drawn' (Erouart and Mosser, op. cit., p. 224; Lambert, idem). Piranesi certainly worked with Tiepolo in the mid-1740s.
16. 'selling his views as best he could' (G.L. Bianconi, Elogio storico del Cavaliere Giambattista Piranesi celebre antiquario, ed incisore di Roma, Rome, 1779, p. 266).
17. L. Puppi, 'Appunti sulla educazione veneziana di Giambattista Piranesi' in Piranesi tra Venezia e l'Europa (conference papers, Fondazione Cini, Venice, 1978), ed. A. Bettagno, Florence, 1983, p. 262.
18. To be published in 2015 in Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Predecessors, Contemporaries and Successors - Studies in Honour of John Wilton-Ely. For a convenient comparison of Bellotto's and Piranesi's views of the Campidoglio, see
F. Nevola, Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The Grotteschi. The early years 1720 to 1750, Rome, 2009, pp. 40-1, figs. 22-3. I am deeply indebted to Francesco Nevola for extensive discussions over several years of the possible identification of the Lyon Master as Piranesi, for providing me with a draft of his forthcoming essay, and for all the information on Piranesi given here.
19. For which see also ibid., pp. 16-18.