This month’s ArtSmart Roundtable is about light, and how light has such a different quality in different places. Where I live, in the middle of a big desert-like valley in California, the light is bright. The sun shines a lot; in fact, in our long summers, there is rarely a cloud in the sky. Sometimes, when I see clouds, I find myself thinking, “Oh, that’s weird.” All this piercing sunlight means less-than-ideal photography, lots of sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats, and wishing for relief by the time July arrives. It also means land bursting with fruit, vegetables, and flavorful wine grapes. We don’t get that lovely romantic light that you see in other places, but the constant sun means we rarely have to think about the weather or the possible inconvenience of rain.
Yes, light helps define a place, and I was reminded of that on my last trip to Venice, Italy. The light was so beautiful and SO different from the light at home in Sacramento. Here the light had color. It changed throughout the day and sometimes showed unpredictability, transforming during the evening hours in the most beautiful ways.
Perhaps nowhere else has light been so appreciated as in Venice. I continue to appreciate Venice for its history and long-standing status as one of the world’s unique and beautiful cities.
The way that light plays a role in this city’s beauty has not gone unnoticed by artists through the centuries. Perhaps seeing images of Venice will give you a fresh perspective of the city’s unique aesthetic, or perhaps these interpretations of Venice will inspire you to consider the importance of light in cityscapes when you travel.
One artist who considered the importance of light in Venice was Canaletto, a Venetian painter of the 18th century. His images provide a wonderful peek into life in Venice during that era–the clothing, boats, and daily activities of the people. Notice that the city and its buildings look the same as they do today.
Because of Venice’s unique position on water, light plays off the water and even reflects onto the colors of the buildings. Canaletto’s images show this play of light, both in the reflection of light off the surface of the water and the way light shines on the buildings.
One of Canaletto’s many paintings of the Grand Canal in Venice
In the early part of the 19th century, the British landscape painter J. M. W. Turner also captured the light of Venice in his many paintings of this city. In the image below, we see the light coming in from the side, creating strong shadows in the foreground and stunning reflections of the architecture in the water.
The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore, Turner, 1834, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Not long after Turner, the Impressionists also spent time working in Venice and using their new painting techniques to interpret light. One of the most interesting of these images is “Blue Venice” by Eduoard Manet. He not only showed light reflecting in the water but also included the colors of the objects, like the striped poles and gondola, reflected in the water.
Blue Venice, Manet, 1875, at the Shelburne Museum, Vermont
A typical impressionist interpretation of light and color is Prendergast‘s painting of a busy day on the Grand Canal.
Grand Canal, Maurice Prendergast, 1899, at the Williams College Museum of Art, Massachusetts
Another interesting interpretation of the light in Venice can be seen in some of Monet‘s late works. Like his famous haystack series, Monet painted views of Venice at different times of day, each one displaying different light and colors. While Monet certainly exaggerated the color and light in these images, the way the colors of the buildings and water reflect light is dazzling.
Grand Canal, Monet, 1908, at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco
American impressionist John Singer Sargent also visited Venice and examined the role of light there. The striking reflections in the water actually seem to be the central figure in this painting:
Ponte San Giuseppe di Castello, Sargent, 1904, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Want to Catch the Light in Venice? Join retreat2wellness and artist, Davina Beacham, April 14-21, 2018, for a week of culinary, cultural, and creative exploration.