A View of Walton Bridge
Canaletto made his name with his brightly painted views of famous Venetian sites and the surrounding countryside, commissioned by affluent British patrons as mementos of their visit to the city as part of the Grand Tour. However, with the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741 Canaletto's patrons began to decline as travel to Italy became increasingly hazardous, and in 1746, in order to regain access to his most lucrative market, the artist embarked upon a stay in England that was to last almost ten years.
The bridge at Walton, some 25 miles southwest of central London, was constructed four years before Canaletto painted this view and was at the time considered to be a remarkable feat of engineering. Known in Venice for his meticulous skills at depicting light and meteorological effects, Canaletto carefully captures the shifting English weather as rays of sunshine burst through dark clouds with the heavy threat of rain. According to an inscription on the reverse of the original canvas, A View of Walton Bridge was painted for Thomas Hollis, a wealthy eccentric who commissioned five other views from the artist. An early catalogue of his collection describes the towering figure in yellow as Hollis, along with his lifelong friend and heir, Thomas Brand, his Italian servant, Francesco Giovanni, and his dog, Malta. The man sitting a little away from the group sketching the scene must be Canaletto himself, making this painting a rare example of the artist inserting his own self-portrait next to his patron.
Despite the artist's painstaking detail in capturing light effects and personalities, this is not an accurate depiction of the Walton Bridge. The wooden bridge was originally connected to the southern bank by a raised brick causeway that spanned part of the marshland beyond - a feature which Canaletto decided to omit, although a year later he painted a second view of the bridge (now in the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven) which includes the long causeway. In scenes such as this Canaletto carefully manipulates the view he is recording to achieve a more harmonised composition, a licence which did not deter his patrons, but which was appreciated as an artistic improvement upon reality.