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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Canaletto was a famous Italian artist best known for his depictions of the city of Venice, which captured the beauty of this historic location. His cityscapes were famed for their handling of perspective and attention to detail.

The artist’s success in capturing the essence of his hometown quickly gained favor with European art collectors who encouraged him to travel elsewhere and broaden his oeuvre. He accepted the challenge, and was prolific in England for a number of years, helping to spread his reputation further afield whilst also bringing new architectural styles into his work.

Despite the huge number of artists who have traveled to Venice to capture its majestic beauty, Canaletto’s scenes remain instantly recognisable as his own. His skilled use of light and perspective would also influence other artists in this genre, all across the continent.

Early Life

Canaletto was born on the 18th of October 1697, in the Italian city of Venice. His father, Bernardo Canal, was an established painter himself and would offer a route into the industry once his son had started to show some potential.

His mother was Artemisia Barbieri, but relatively little is known about her. The family were involved in theater design, which provided a steady stream of income, but their true passion lay in producing detailed city scenes, sometimes known as Veduta. The young Canaletto was tasked with helping out his father in designing theater stages as a means to developing his technical ability, whilst also potentially being able to provide for himself in later years.

The artist then gained work in Rome in his early twenties on some new theater productions but was already starting to be drawn towards cityscape oil painting as his true passion. Unlike other members of his family, he hoped he might be able to support himself financially with this medium alone, once his reputation has been established.

Whilst learning most from his father, he also studied the work of Giovanni Paolo Pannini in great detail. Having broken from his father’s direct control, Canaletto would now train and study alongside other artists in the same genre, and combine the various strengths of his colleagues with his own. As a sign of his early success, Canaletto was already selling his cityscapes by the mid-1720s, whilst still a relatively young man.

Switch to England

Canaletto was able to court collectors from all across Europe from the comfort of Venice, thanks to the cultural lure of this stunning city. English art enthusiasts snapped up many of his works, and also convinced him to produce smaller versions which were easier to transport and more commercially viable back in the UK.

The artist would spend the next two decades capturing the finest parts of the city in resplendent detail, safe in the knowledge that his customers would likely purchase each and every piece. Sadly, political instability in the 1740s made it harder for foreign collectors to visit and purchase his work, and so whilst his style was still very much in vogue, he was not sure if he could continue to profit financially from his work.

Consequently, he made the wise decision to relocate to England, where he could directly tap into his largest market, whilst also potentially widening the scope of his oeuvre to include other cities and cultures. This risky maneuver worked out well for the artist, who lived in England from 1746 to 1755. He focused mainly on scenes around London, but also captured picturesque locations around the rest of England, including Warwick Castle.

Having worked tirelessly in Venice and England for more than three decades, the artist’s work started to lose its inventiveness and some critics deemed the artist to be completing his commissions without quite the same passion as he once displayed. He chose to return to Venice by this point, but his strong influence in both cities was already established.

Return to Venice

The artist continued to paint right up until his death, and would rely more on his imagination than he did in the earlier parts of his career. Canaletto experimented with other genres such as landscape art, but would not find much success with these. His most profitable days were clearly behind him, as this brought about some financial difficulties, though he remained highly regarded in Venice and was still seen as an inspiration to the younger generation of artists.

Within his studio alone, he counted the likes of Bernardo Bellotto, Francesco Guardi, Michele Marieschi, Gabriele Bella, and Giuseppe Moretti who would all go on to have successful careers of their own. Canaletto passed away on the 19th of April, 1768 at the age of 70.


From his large oeuvre, many of Canaletto’s most famous paintings are based on the locations that they cover. His Stonemason's Yard from around 1725 is perhaps his most highly regarded early work, whilst The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, 1730 captures the essence of his work in Italy.

Over in England, there was Westminster Abbey with a Procession of the Knights of the Bath as well as The River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day which are most memorable from his decade working in the country.


Canaletto created a profitable market for his work, and was much loved for the incredible detail found in his charming depictions of Venice and London. His approach heralded others to join this genre, but he will always be considered the leading light in the Veduta art form. Many of the paintings that he sold to English collectors remain in the UK today, keeping his reputation strong here as well as in his native Venice.

Many other artists were also inspired by his work to travel to Venice, even if their own styles were somewhat different to his, with his detailed depictions of the city’s stunning architecture serving as a great promotional tool for this cultured region.