“Over a Balcony,” View of the Grand Canal, Venice; Francis Hopkinson Smith
Watercolor; roughly 32 x 21 inches (80 x 53 cm); in the collection of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. On their page, click on “Explore Object” at the top of the image for a zoomable view, or use the “Download Image” link.
This superb late 19th century watercolor of Venice by American artist and engineer Francis Hopkinson Smith is remarkable on several levels.
Not only is it a beautiful evocation of a view from a balcony in the Academia section of the city toward one of its great landmarks — the church and basilica of Santa Maria della Salute — it also captures the variation in light through the scene caused by the scattered cloud cover. The church domes are in sharp sun and shadow, as is the landing forward of that; but the foreground and other parts of the middle distance are in the muted light of an overcast day.
In addition, Smith has delineated the architecture with lines visible through the areas of color, giving the picture the charm of both a drawing and a painting simultaneously.
Most appealing to me, however, is the way he has shifted our view from far to near — essentially in three steps, from the distant curve of the main island beyond the mouth of the canal, to the succinctly delineated middle ground of the church and its environs, to the immediate foreground of the flower pots and ledges, the nearest only an arm’s reach from the artist’s vantage point.