Mathias Ary Jan has kindly confirmed the authenticity and date of execution of this watercolour. We thank him for his assistance.
Théophile Gautier, poet, journalist and art critic, writing in 1868, rated the watercolours of Félix Ziem on a par with the work of the great English watercolourists of the nineteenth century – Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28), Clarkson Frederick Stanfield (1793-1867), William Callow (1812-1908) and William Turner (1775-1851). Turner himself was reputed to have owned several watercolours by Ziem.
The present work is a fine and characteristic example of Ziem’s watercolours painted in the years 1870 to 1875. The watercolours of this period are indebted to the work of Bonington and this is so marked that direct influence is almost certain. However nothing is known of the precise circumstances under which Ziem had access to, and was able to study, Bonington’s work – he died seven years after Ziem was born.
Ziem paid an annual visit to Venice between 1842 and 1897. He frequently worked in a small studio he had set up on a gondola. In the present watercolour the viewer’s eye is led over the Basin of San Marco to take in a number of city landmarks silhouetted on the horizon. The twin domes of the baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute at the entrance to the Canale Grande are clearly distinguishable at the left. Prominently displayed at the right are the monuments on the Piazza San Marco – the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile and the domes of the Basilica of San Marco.
Ziem’s work was highly sought after and even at an advanced age he had more commissions than he was able to handle. He often executed several versions of the same view at different times of day, on different days and in different seasons, rarely dating his work. His oeuvre is prolific and extremely wide-ranging. It is represented in many of the world’s leading public and private collections.
At the precocious age of seventeen Ziem was awarded a first prize in architecture and composition at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dijon. He moved to Marseilles in 1840 where he worked as an architect. At about this time he is known to have taken up painting and his earliest known watercolours date from this period. He left Marseilles for Italy in 1841 and later accompanied Prince Grigory Gagarin, an affluent Russian painter and architect, on a trip from Nice to St. Petersburg, stopping in Kiev and Moscow. Ziem cultivated contacts with members of the European aristocracy and this rapidly brought him success and wealth. He befriended many of the artists of the Barbizon School and worked with them regularly between 1850 and 1865. Like them, he can be regarded as one of the forerunners of Impressionism even though his preference was for different motifs. His views of Venice and Constantinople are among his greatest artistic achievements.