Giovanni Antonio Canal (28 October 1697 – 19 April 1768) better known as Canaletto, was a Venetian painter famous for his landscapes, or vedute, of Venice. He was also an important printmaker in etching.
He was born in Venice as the son of the painter Bernardo Canal, hence his mononym Canaletto ("little Canal"), and Artemisia Barbieri. His nephew and pupil Bernardo Bellotto was also an accomplished landscape painter, with a similar painting style, and sometimes used the name "Canaletto" to advance his own career, particularly in countries—Germany and Poland—where his uncle was not active.
Canaletto served his apprenticeship with his father and his brother. He began in his father's occupation, that of a theatrical scene painter. Canaletto was inspired by the Roman vedutista Giovanni Paolo Pannini, and started painting the daily life of the city and its people.
After returning from Rome in 1719, he began painting in his famous topographical style. His first known signed and dated work is Architectural Capriccio (1723, Milan, in a private collection). Studying with the older Luca Carlevarijs, a moderately-talented painter of urban cityscapes, he rapidly became his master's equal.
In 1725, the painter Alessandro Marchesini, who was also the buyer for the Lucchese art collector Stefano Conti had inquired about buying two more 'views of Venice', when the agent informed him to consider instead the work of "Antonio Canale... it is like Carlevaris, but you can see the sun shining in it."
Much of Canaletto's early artwork was painted 'from nature', differing from the then customary practice of completing paintings in the studio. Some of his later works do revert to this custom, as suggested by the tendency of distant figures to be painted as blobs of colour - an effect produced by using a camera obscura, which blurs farther-away objects.
However, his paintings are always notable for their accuracy: he recorded the seasonal submerging of Venice in water and ice.
His pupils included his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, Francesco Guardi, Michele Marieschi, Gabriele Bella, and Giuseppe Moretti (painter). The painter, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison was a follower of his style.
Joseph Smith sold much of his collection to George III, creating the bulk of the large collection of Canalettos owned by the Royal Collection. There are many examples of his work in other British collections, including several at the Wallace Collection and a set of 24 in the dining room at Woburn Abbey.
Canaletto's views always fetched high prices, and as early as the 18th century Catherine the Great and other European monarchs vied for his grandest paintings. The record price paid at auction for a Canaletto is £18.6 million for View of the Grand Canal from Palazzo Balbi to the Rialto, set at Sotheby's in London in July 2005.