Basel art exhibition puts spotlight on Venice

6th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

The Foundation Beyeler highlights Venice, displaying some 150 works by a wide array of world famous painters.

6 October 2008

BASEL -- Ah, Venice! La Serenissima (the Divine Republic), Queen of the Adriatic, a city between the sky and the sea. Hardly a city has fascinated more writers and artists than Venice, the favourite of painters as early as the 18th century.

The Foundation Beyeler, in the Basel suburb of Riehen, has gathered for a joint display of some 150 oil and watercolour paintings of Venice by Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, JM William Turner, James McNeill, Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Edouard Manet, Pierre- Auguste Renoir, Pietro Fragiacomo, Odilon Redon, Paul Signac, and Claude Monet.

The exhibition, titled Venice: From Canaletto and Turner to Monet, running until January 25, is in many ways unique. Manet's only two Venice pictures have been reunited for the first time since 1983, and 15 of the works in Monet's Venice cycle, comprising 37 pictures in all, are on display at the foundation's museum for the first time.

The Foundation Beyeler has selected just 12 of the many 18th- and 19th-century artists who put Venice's matchless palaces, churches, and canals onto canvas.

"We wanted a high-quality exhibition without any kitschy or clichéd images," said Martin Schwander, guest curator of the exhibition. Hence the best of the best are on view, with the exception of some works by Sargent, an American.

The exhibition includes one of the earliest works of Canaletto (1697-1768), among his era's most famous and modern painters - comparable, in our day, to Jeff Koons.

It shows the Grand Canal from Santa Maria della Carita. Unusual for its time, the painting is enlivened and made relief-like by strong contrasts of light and shade.

Canaletto and Guardi, who are represented by two almost photographic scenes of the island Giudecca and the pier at San Marco, are among the last great Venetian painters of cityscapes and panoramas. The 19th-century image of Venice was predominantly influenced by northern European painters such as Turner, an Englishman.

Among the seven delightful pictures by Turner is his first oil painting, which he exhibited at London's Royal Academy of Arts.

A view of the Doge's Palace, it is captivating in the way it melds realism and orientalism. A painter with an easel is visible at the bottom left of the work. This is a homage to Canaletto, who was particularly popular among English art collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The oil paintings by Turner as well as the more than 20 watercolours are all on loan from London's Tate Britain art gallery.

Turner travelled to Venice for the first time in September 1819. But his late works in particular reflect the interplay of sky and sea, of light and water. His Venice dissolves in waves of light and strong, brilliantly shimmering colours.

Among the high points of the exhibition are the only two paintings that Manet, a Frenchman, made of Venice. They are wonderful depictions of the Grand Canal and a gondola. Manet was the first of the modernists to visit the city, in 1974, and he broke with previous panorama depictions.

Manet's Venice is no longer identifiable. The facades, rendered sketchily in rough strokes, merge in vibrating surfaces of colour that make it impossible to distinguish between a Doge's Palace and a Palazzo Foscari.

Less radical brushwork is employed by Monet, who arrived in Venice on October 1, 1908, at the age of 68. Though he had reluctantly accepted the invitation by an English art collector to visit the "city of painters' clichés," Monet was enchanted. His time in Venice even moved him to revive what had been one of his favourite subjects: the portrayal of historic architecture.

As he did in his famous series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, Monet studied the facades of the Venetian palazzi Contarini, da Mula, and Dario at different times of day.

Painted in dots, the buildings seem to flicker, remaining a vision that exists only for a certain moment and reflects a certain atmosphere - a vision that has inspired the European and American avant-garde to epoch-making works on La Serenissima.

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By Sabine Glaubitz,

[dpa / Expatica]



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