Giuseppe Bernardino Bison

Venice, view of the Molo, looking toward the Zecca with Saint Teodoro column

Giuseppe Bernardino Bison
( Palmanova, 1762 - Milan, 1844 )

Oil on canvas 59x73.3 cm Approved by Prof. Fabrizio Magani

The view derives from a similar work by Canaletto, part of the celebrated pendant (View of the Molo looking toward riva degli Schiavoni with Saint Mark’s column) once part of the Luigi Albertini collection then purchased in 1995 by the Comune of Milan for the Museo d’Arte Antica in the Sforza Castle.

In the 18th century, the painting alongside its companion, entered into the collection of the Dukes of Leeds through mediations by the British Consul Joseph Smith, protector and official agent for Canaletto himself. The works enjoyed a fortunate early success thanks to the prints undertaken by Antonio Visentini, which only incurred minor changes from the original works and the aquatints of 1742 which completed the second part of the collection dedicated to Canaletto’s views, Urbis Venetiarum Prospectus Celebriores ("Prospectus a Columna S. Marci ad Ripam Dalmatorum vulgò de Schiavoni"). Another two variations are know as well, executed by Brustolon in larger scale and inserted in the Prospectus Aedium Viarumque by Furlanetto in 1763.

It is to these printed examples that we can trace the following painted interpretation, which captures the lighthearted ambiance of a Venetian day, rendered lively by the dominating crystalline sky, which communicates with the greenish lagoon “touch’ of the Grand Canal. Within is also the reflection of a historic city, which comes forth advocating its most celebrated characteristics, utilizing the boats in the foreground to suggest the flowing of the water and people. Venice is an illustrious city, which in the repositioning of the delightful moments of everyday life lives its constant transformation, passing from history to legend. Clearly confirmed by this captured moment, attributed to Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, perhaps the most interesting painter of the transition phase of Venetian figurative culture between the 18th and 19th centuries, as endeavored to demonstrate in the various studies reached at the Udine show in 1997 (Giuseppe Bernardino Bison pittore e disegnatore, catalogue of the show by G. Bergamini, F. Magni, G. Pavanello, Milan 1997). A native of Palmarola del Friuli, he emerged on the Venetian art scene at a very young age, attaining a worthy degree of success as a painter and interior decorator. However it was his landscapes and city views that would bestow on him the greatest admiration, so much so in fact, that beginning in 1800 he found great support in the public of Trieste, at the time a city inhabited by a wealthy middle class fascinated with collecting contemporary paintings, practically adopting Bison for his uncommon ability of combining the exquisite stylistic qualities of 18th century “touch” painting to the more modern subjects and styles of the renewed cultures of the 19th century. With these superb credentials the artist, now elderly, plays his last card by moving to Milan, the capital of the Lombard-Veneto in 1831 where he continues receiving accolades as disclosed in the days periodicals.

In this painting the original and descriptive vivacity of Giuseppe Bernardino Bison’s figures is easily recognizable, put forth by the architectonic scenery of Venice, in which the laws of perspective composition open to the gleaming atmosphere. As expected, such works, as the one here examined, are based on transcriptions of scenes made famous by the best painters of the 18th century. It is therefore not surprising that Bison utilized an engraving to recreate this Venetian scene, a discipline which obliged aspiring artist, as part of the academic education, to practice using the models from the best antique paintings. It is consequently understandable that the artist from Palmarola himself, engaged in painting views of Venice, as well as lessons of perspective, could not have withheld from using Canaletto, the best 18th century painter as an example.

Bison became a 19th century reflection of the master from the seventeen hundreds and thus replicated the extensive Venetian views, seizing the boundless horizons, depicting them with clarity, giving the necessary attention to the details of the buildings. Executing at times the necessary modernizations to the buildings in the scene, as well as, simultaneously including the episodes that animate this city in which we discern the invention of the “macchiette” (small blotches).

His complete command in the layering, which seems to confront a personal interpretation of the design as opposed to the “model” of refined Venetian origin, appears to allocate the present painting to the last years of his Milanese period. As previously disclosed he arrived at the Lombard capital in 1831 joining Raffaello Tosoni, an agent who facilitated his sales and who allowed him access to the Brera exhibitions. With sufficient certainty the work here in question can also be placed within those sensitive works, revisiting the celebrated moments and times of Venetian cityscapes with a sensitivity that attests to the artist’s production of the 1850’s, from the essence that would have given origin to the myth of Venice.

Fabrizio Magani