Before vacations, one went on “tour”… a multi-month affair restricted to the upper classes. For most, especially well-heeled Brits, Italy was THE cultural pinnacle of the Grand Tour with mandatory stops in Venice, Florence and Rome.
“Grand Tourists” desiring a pictorial souvenir, especially of the enchanting floating city of Venice, purchased large-scale paintings by most famously Canaletto and Guardi. These detailed “view” paintings are aggrandized postcards: lovely, romanticized images that capture the epic beauty and refinement of Venetian architecture and the atmosphere that, to this day, gives La Serenissima its unique sense of place.
The Brits have always had a special love affair with La Bella Italia, and the Queen’s Gallery in London holds the finest and most extensive collection of paintings and drawings by Canaletto thanks to King George lll’ s timely purchase of a library and associated works from Joseph Smith, an art dealer, Canaletto’s agent and the British Consul in Venice who had fallen upon hard times.