35. ARTHUR STREETON The Rialto
In 1907, Arthur Streeton returned to Australia from England having lived there since 1897, working and exhibiting his art. He held a successful exhibition of his paintings at Hibernian Hall in Melbourne, with sales totalling a respectable two thousand pounds. Some of his paintings were secured by the trustees of the South Australian Gallery and National Gallery of Australia.1 With this new found financial stability, Streeton returned to England and married Nora Clench on the 11th January, 1908. In May of that year, the newlyweds travelled to Venice for their honeymoon where they rode gondolas along the waterways and walked the streets admiring the unique architecture. ‘What a wonderful place it is…we stayed in a charming place in the Zattere… and I worked hard and did some good pieces.’2
Venice has attracted artists to its glittering waterways for centuries, most notably Bellini (c1430–1516), Canaletto (1697-1768), and the Venetian School painters. Later on, it was names such as Turner (1775-1851), Sargent (1856-1925), Whistler (1834-1925), and Sickert (1860-1942). By the early twentieth century, Venice was earning a reputation as the artistic du jour to the foreign traveller; the year before Streeton’s visit, more than two hundred thousand tourists flocked to the city to visit La Biennale di Venezia, showcasing the art of both Italian and international artists. Streeton would no doubt have seen the many famous depictions of Venice and needed little encouragement to experience ‘La Serenissima’ for himself.
The Rialto Bridge is a feature of many Venetian masterpieces and a landmark which Streeton studied in great detail through sketches, lithographs and several oil paintings. The bridge was built in the late 16th century by Antonio Contino and Antonio de Ponte following a design competition to replace an existing timber structure. The bridge spans the busy Grand Canal and connects the districts of San Marco and San Polo. The bridge had to allow enough width for an arcade and needed to be high enough to allow vessels to pass beneath. In the present work,
Streeton depicts the bridge possibly at either dusk or dawn, capturing the dramatic shadows on the water. The palette here is markedly cooler than his high-keyed impressions of the city painted in full sunlight. Many of the works were completed en plein air and according to Mary Eagle, ‘carried conviction, declaring that he had been there, he had painted from sight and recorded only what he saw.’3
Streeton recorded several views of the Rialto Bridge, from various angles at different times of the day. The artist’s pencil drawings, watercolours and several other oil paintings of the subject suggest he enjoyed the challenge of recording the bridge’s unique structure. Following his return to London, Streeton exhibited a group of his Venetian works at the Alpine Club on Saville Row which were well-received by critics in England. The present work was most likely included amongst those canvases in the 1908 exhibition alongside other oil paintings such as La Salute, from Riva Schiavoni, now in the National Gallery of Australia collection, Canberra.
Streeton had initially found it difficult to break into the British art scene however by 1908, he had forged a reputation as a hardworking artist who painted with conviction. Following the highly successful exhibitions in Melbourne, his marriage to Nora Clench and honeymoon in Venice, Streeton was painting with renewed enthusiasm. His Venetian subjects from 1908 are considered to be amongst his best and most collectible works from the European phase of his career.
‘The Streeton Pictures’, Herald, 3 May 1907, p.6
Streeton letter to F.S. Delmer, F.S. Delmer papers, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, cited in Eagle, M., The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1994, p.147
Eagle, M., The Oil Paintings of Arthur Streeton in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1994, p.147
Caroline Jones MArtAdmin