Giovanni Antonio Canal (October 7, 1697 - April 19, 1768), better known as Canaletto, was a Venetian artist famous for his landscapes or vedute of Venice. They served as the equivalent of painted postcards for those able to afford the price. He was a son of a painter Bernardo Canal, hence his nickname Canaletto.
Many of his pictures were sold to Englishmen on their Grand Tour, most notably the merchant Joseph Smith (who was later appointed British Consul in Venice in 1744). It was Smith who acted as an agent for Canaletto, helping him to sell his paintings to other Englishmen, and also Smith who sold much of his collection to George III, creating the bulk of the large collection of Canalettos owned by the British Monarchy.
Canaletto was inspired by the Roman vedutista Giovanni Paolo Pannini and began painting in his famous topographical style after a visit to Rome in 1719. His first known signed and dated work is Architectural Capriccio (1723, Milan, in a private collection). One of his best pieces is The Stonemason's Yard (1729, London, the National Gallery) which depicts a humble, working area of the city. Canaletto, however, is better known for his grand scenes of the canals of Venice and the Doge's Palace.
Many of Canaletto's early works, contrary to the custom of the time, were painted 'from nature' (rather than from sketches and studies of the scene taken back to be worked on in the artist's studio). Some of his later works do revert to this custom, hinted at by the tendency for distant figures to be painted as blobs of colour - an effect produced by using a camera obscura, which blurs farther-away objects.
For about ten years from 1746 Canaletto worked in London, where he painted English landscapes and cityscapes.
Canaletto's work began to suffer from repetitiveness, losing its traditional fluidity, and became mechanical to the point that the English art critic George Vertue suggested that the man painting under the name 'Canaletto' was an imposter. Canaletto gave public demostrations of his work to refute this claim; however, his reputation never fully recovered in his lifetime.
After his return to Venice Canaletto was elected to the Venetian Academy in 1763. He continued to paint until his death in 1768.