Pether’s lively sense of Venice as a great outdoor theatre is reflected in his shimmering brushwork, which invests the famous building of the National Library with an air of magic. Pether keeps a tension between the dark lines which define details of buildings and the entwined skeins of colour which evoke the rippling moon light playing across the lagoon, stone and figures.
The light of the full moon is offset by the warm pink of the Doge’s Palace and local colours of the area outside. Typical of Pether is the composition with strong diagonals which give a dynamic sense of receding space.
Here, Pether uses a personal technique, covering his canvas with blue before using a camera obscura to obtain exact shapes and perspective directly from real life.
Pether was supremely competent in the technique of representing moonlight shining through cloud by the use of soft glazes over patches of dense paint.
This view from outside the Doges Palace looking west towards the National library into the heart of Venice’s secular and religious power had been made famous by Canaletto in works such as The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day, c.1733-4 (Royal Collection). In the middle of the painting are the columns of St Theodore, the original patron saint of Venice, and St Mark, which then lead the eye through them into the distance to the San Giorgio Maggiore.
Pether delights in the complex, fourteenth century gothic façade of the Doge’s Palace, symbol of the city’s extraordinarily resilient republican government.
The painting is from the artist’s mature period which was doubtless one of the commissions flooding in from clients, many of them English, who were undertaking the Grand Tour of Europe.
Henry Pether was born on the 15th March 1800 into a family that was well known for artistic talent. The family came from Chichester, his father Abraham established a reputation as a specialist painter of moonlit landscapes and is often referred to as “Moonlight Pether”.
Abraham had another son, Sebastian, who was also influenced by his father’s artistic interests and he too painted moonlit scenes. Henry Pether again specialized in moonlight scenes and is seen as the best of the three. His work has a security in terms of composition, control of detail, atmosphere and colouring which is greatly superior to his father and brother.
Henry favoured actual scenes, often on the Thames or in Venice, and this painting conveys the poetry and realism of his best work. His father and brother tended to repeat romanticised capriccio subjects, often with overstated blue tones which lack conviction. Henry’s palette was more sensitive and truthful to nature.
Henry exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1828 to 1862, the British Institution and Suffolk Street.
The artist lived in both Camden and Clapham. Sadly, Henry Pether died in the workhouse in Chelsea.
National Maritime Museum
Southampton City Art Gallery
Government Art Collection
Harris Musuem & Art Gallery