This work, on view in Seeing Nature, reflects the exhibition’s theme of Venetian scenes. Turner showed this painting at the Royal Academy the year after his final trip to Venice. He invented the scene to pay homage to a beloved place and a favorite Venetian painter, Giovanni Bellini (c. 1431–1516). Turner imagines a great aquatic procession accompanying the delivery of paintings to the church of Il Redentore. The church’s three works then attributed to Bellini were never famous, so the subject was a pretext for celebrating Venetian culture. The luminous buildings seem to float in the city’s distinctive union of water and sky, which had beguiled the artist for decades.
Venice, one of collector Paul Allen’s favorite cities, is represented in Seeing Nature with scenes of the grand canal, gondolas, and the signature bridges of the Italian city. Among these sumptuous scenes is Canaletto’s The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking South-East from San Stae to the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto (c. 1738). Canaletto mostly made views of famous sites in Venice for tourists, but lesser-known areas often inspired his finest evocations of the unique poetic qualities of his native city. This handsome stretch of the Grand Canal is lined with the stately palaces of great Venetian families and the lovely church of San Stae, designed by Domenico Rossi. The artist exploited the long, straight vista and raking light to create visual drama. His mastery of subtle Venice-specific effects is revealed in the differentiation of still and ruffled water and in the sun-drenched building facades bleeding into their reflections in the canal.
Marketing Intern Olivia Bensimon spent some time with Henri Le Sidaner’s The Serenade, Venice (1907), on view in Seeing Nature, recording her thoughts and reactions:
We left the banks along with the others. Each of us climbed, one by one, onto the gondolas and followed the lights. Although it was early summer, the nights were still cold. From the boats we could still see the banks of the Great Canal, the streets lit up with gas lights. Silence reigned; the only sound was the water gently beating against the hulls of the boats. We stopped and waited. Was it finally time?
Across from us, in front of the Basilica, stood a group men holding onto objects. We waited. Time seemed slow. Eternity passed before we heard a faint echo of sounds, the vibration of the strings into the body of the violin. The rest of the orchestra followed, and Venice came alive with the sound of music.
The landscapes on view in Seeing Nature can inspire any number of different emotions and reactions. Does one of the works from the exhibition stand out to you? Take a stab at your own freewriting exercise in response! Let your pen take the lead and send us the result at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win a Phillips gift bag. We’ll feature our favorite submissions here on the blog. Here’s a previous example in response to Milton Avery‘s Dancing Trees.
Olivia Bensimon, Marketing & Communications Intern