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Three years ago, Denver Art Museum (DAM) curator Timothy Standring picked up a small, 18.5-inch-by-31-inch painting. The striking rendition of the Piazza San Marco in Venice—one of the world’s most celebrated public spaces—had been gifted to the DAM by local collector Charles Edwin M. Stanton. Though it bore no signature and had some minor damage, the flawless composition made an impression on Standring, who thought it could only be the craft of a master painter.
Indeed, it was the work of famous 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Antonio Canal (better known as Canaletto). To verify the painting’s source, Standring traveled to London to consult Canaletto expert Charles Beddington, who deemed it one of the artist’s earliest undocumented works, created between 1736 and 1740. Where it went after he painted it will forever remain a mystery. (At some point, it was named Venice: The Molo from the Bacino di S. Marco.) The bulk of Canaletto’s paintings—known for their dramatic lighting and precise rendering of architecture, maritime scenes, and human figures—was absorbed into the Royal Collection in England or acquired by monarchs and aristocrats while the artist was still alive. Most works are valued in the millions.
Venice now sits in the hands of James Squires, the DAM’s associate conservator of paintings, who has the arduous task of restoration. His job includes removing old varnish and mismatched paint that was previously added by restorers, and filling in cracks and voids with paints and varnishes. “It was actually in better shape than I thought it would be,” Squires says. “A lot of the original color is there, and the brushwork is still visible.” But there’s still much to be done: The painting will finally make its public debut in February.
5280.com Exclusive: View a slideshow of the restoration process at 5280.com/canaletto.
100 » Hours needed to complete the restoration process.
14 » Steps in the restoration process, from removing discolored varnish to stretching the canvas onto a new frame.
8 » Layers of original paint, added paint, varnish, and sealants.
2 » Number of scholars in the world who study Canaletto’s works and life exclusively.