I have been on the road, in the air and across the sea. In Venice I traced the techniques and locations of past masters like J.M.W. Turner, John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Francesco Guardi and Canaletto. Making an oil painting in Venice in the 1700s demanded a multi-step process. Francesco Guardi illustrates that process. First, a light sketch in black chalk or graphite. This sketch was then overlaid by pen and ink drawing which was embellished with graduated washes. The artist diluted the ink with water in various concentrations to get a range of values.
A painting might be begin with a small oil study in limited colors, or as a simple value study. In these studies the artist experimented with lighting, changing skies, and alternate designs.
In example 1. I imitate Guardi’s pen, ink and wash technique with a small quick study of Santa Maria Della Salute as she stands at the entrance to Venice’s Grand Canal. I follow this with example 2, an expressive value demonstration for my students in Venice. Example 3 presents a photo of Santa Maria Della Salute as I saw it when painting the oil sketch. In example 4 You see an example of Guardi’s own developed pen and ink sketch of a canal site. In example 5 you see a quick cursory ink sketch by Canaletto. These sketches served as a private thinking devices, as quick studies or, as more finished drawings. Example 6 shows Canaletto’s final developed oil of the same subject. Similar oil paintings by Guardi of Santa Maria Della Salute are on view in examples 7 and 8. Artists often reprised their paintings changing them slightly (through slight shifts in point of view or lighting changes). Example 9 offers a photo from Guardi’s painting location. Guardi invented his skies and lighting just as I did in example 2.
James Whistler, the artist famous for painting his mother ( the painting resides in the Louvre Museum today but, can be found everywhere in reproduction including a US postage stamp), enjoyed evoking the mysteries of Venice in etchings, oils and pastels. Among his oils is example 10, a soft-focus twilight experience of the church of San Marco in Venice painted in 1879.
The impressionists have just begun their series of exhibitions in Paris. Whistler was influenced by the new idea of capturing a momentary glimpse, a foggy impression of a place. I suspect, despite his protests to the contrary, he was also influenced by Turner’s moody, abstracted evening impressions of Venice as well as the effects of blurred photographs. By 1879 photographs were commonplace resources for painters. Whistler had seen the effect of camera movements upon the image. His painting appears to imitate the effects of camera movement as well as the effects of cropping an image with the camera. In example 10 you see Whistler’s evening (Nocturne as he called it) view of the corner of San Marco. In examples 11,12, and 13 I have photographs that I deliberately blurred as a result of camera movement of the same subject. In example 14 you see my own preliminary plein-air oil sketch of this subject. The final example 15, shows a blurred view of Santa Maria Della Salute, the subject of Francesco Guardi.