Street in Venice 1882 John Singer Sargent (1826-1925)


For centuries Venice had been an inspiration to artists and writers. At the peak of the Republic’s power, the rich Venetian light warmed the paintings of Titian and Tintoretto. Then, as the city’s influence began to ebb, its intricate architecture provided the backdrop for the works of Canaletto and Guardi. And finally, as it slipped away into obscurity, its rotting remains attracted artists, poets and writers from all over the world. Ruskin measured and recorded every mosaic and crumbling arch of the city. Henry James and Thomas Mann found stories in the sad remains of its past. Lord Byron led a life of inspired dissolution above the Grand Canal. Turner dissolved the city in the lilac light of the lagoon, Monet tracked the reflections of the canals across the disintegrating facades of ancient palaces and John Singer Sargent painted in the shaded back streets where the traditions of Venetian life still thrived.

This lecture is a purely personal tour of 19th century Venice in search of these painters, poets and authors, the strange and often bizarre lives they led in the city, the customs and rituals they found when they arrived and the rich and varied succession of images they created that ultimately transformed the hard city of the Venetian Republic into the romantic legend it is today.

See: Tate Britain Sargent & Fashion Exhibition 22nd February to 7th July 2024

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