John Mcewen com­ments on London: The Thames from Som­er­set House Ter­race to­wards the City

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Christopher Boyle -

By the 18th cen­tury, only Corfu re­mained of the mar­itime em­pire that had brought the tiny ter­ri­to­rial repub­lic of Venice such dis­pro­por­tion­ate wealth and power, so it rein­vented it­self as the world’s honey pot, which, for sub­lim­ity, it re­mains.

The mass of rich plea­sure-seek­ers had an in­sa­tiable need for me­men­toes. Canaletto was the un­chal­lenged master for cityscapes. His ca­reer was en­hanced and saved by the English—as clients, and, in­sep­a­ra­bly, as agents. The lat­ter were Owen Mc­swiney, an Ir­ish­man bankrupted in Eng­land, and Joseph Smith, the Bri­tish Con­sul. Mc­swiney, who was pop­u­lar but per­ma­nently in debt, acted as a con­tact man for Smith, who was an hon­est, loyal, ef­fi­cient col­lec­tor and fixer, roundly dis­liked for be­ing a self-seek­ing snob.

you could buy a Canaletto with­out en­gag­ing Smith, but he would en­sure au­then­tic­ity and safe de­liv­ery. He was the key fig­ure in Canaletto’s suc­cess in Venice, as well as in Eng­land, where the artist fol­lowed his English pa­trons after Grand Tourism de­clined fol­low­ing the Aus­trian War of Suc­ces­sion.

Ge­orge Vertue, an­ti­quar­ian and en­graver, noted the ar­rival of ‘the Fa­mous Painter of Views Canaletti of Venice’ in 1746. Canaletto’s first London client was a for­eign vis­i­tor, the young Prince Lobkow­icz. Ac­cord­ing to Vertue, Canaletto was re­served and dis­liked ‘be­ing seen at work, at any time, or any­where’.

After four years he re­turned to Venice. Smith, ever loyal, bought this Thames view and its com­pan­ion, which may have been painted in Venice from draw­ings. He later sold them to Ge­orge III.

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