A View of Walton Bridge
Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto (1697-1768), made his name with brightly painted views of famous Venetian sites and the surrounding countryside, often commissioned by affluent British patrons as mementos of their visit to the city. Travel to Italy became increasingly hazardous following the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741. Therefore, in order to regain access to his most lucrative market, Canaletto embarked upon a stay in England from 1746 to 1756.
The bridge at Walton, some twenty-five miles southwest of central London, was constructed four years before Canaletto painted this view, and was 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 (1720-1774), a wealthy political philosopher and author who was active in British cultural life and commissioned five other views from Canaletto. 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 is Canaletto himself, making this painting a rare example of the artist inserting his own self-portrait alongside his patron.