Part of my role as Press Officer for The Friends of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery includes accompanying The Friends on visits to museums across the country, to see some remarkable exhibitions. Following an interesting lecture by Jacqueline Ansell (National Gallery and Christie’s Education) on Thursday, we travelled to The National Gallery in London on Saturday to see the current exhibition ‘VENICE: Canaletto and his Rivals’. It featured works by Canaletto and his contemporaries, bringing together around 60 major loans from public and private collections, including one (my favourite) that belongs to HRH The Queen. The works by Canaletto are juxtaposed to others by Guardi, Marieschi, Bellotto, etc. As I moved from one room to another I found myself looking at each painting, searching for visual clues that might suggest the hand of a particular artist and guessing which one it might be and got nearly all of them right. Among all the artists on display Canaletto’s work stood out for his exquisite use of oil paint and colour. The paintings are so rich and full of surprising details that I could have easily spent another day or week looking at them, but after a few hours I began to feel I was suffering from visual indigestion!
The Canaletto exhibition was complemented very nicely by a series of new paintings by Ben Johnson (shown below), the result of a residency the painter undertook at the National Gallery in 2010. Inspired by Canaletto’s Stone Masons Yard (see use of light and dark) he began work on a large image of Trafalgar Square, as seen from the roof of The National Gallery. The artist was there, in Room 1, still working on the painting on the day of my visit, pleased to speak to any member of the public and answer questions about his technique (which includes use of computer renderings, laser cutter and airbrush).