François Bocion first visited Venice in the summer of 1874. Having honed his talent on and around Lake Geneva, he now hoped travel would give his work fresh impetus. “What it will lead to, nobody knows. Maybe it will make me drop the lake like an enema…” he wrote to the author Eugène Rambert before setting out. Judging by the number of canvases he brought back from the journey, Venice and the lagoon proved a rich source of inspiration. However, they were less successful than he had hoped, remaining unsold and “crushing [him] with all their weight”. Nonetheless, Bocion returned to Venice in the summer of 1881.
This 1882 view is one of the works painted in the artist’s Lausanne studio after his second Italian sojourn. He chose a view of the Grand Canal from a quayside in the Castello neighbourhood, south of the Arsenal. The painting, based on several sketches from life, is an accurate depiction of the site and its architecture. From left to right stand San Giorgio Maggiore, Santa Maria della Salute, San Vidal in the distance, San Maurizio, and San Marco, their respective bell towers and cupolas cleverly placed between sails and standing out against the pale sky. Bocion seems to have enjoyed capturing a range of water craft, from gondolas to a three-masted ship, at various depths of field, guiding the gaze into the background and counteracting the hemmed-in impression created by the crowded skyline. The yellows and reds of the sails and the deep black of the hulls contrast with the pale blues, greys and pinks of the buildings and the sky. In the foreground, workers are bustling about in the most working-class neighbourhood in the city, transporting goods and labouring in the dockyard.
Béatrice Aubert-Lecoultre, Carinne Bertola et alii, François Bocion. Au seuil de l’impressionnisme, exh. cat. Vevey, Musée Jenisch, Milan, 5 Continents Editions, 2006.
François Daulte and Patrick Schaefer, François Bocion. Du Léman à Venise, exh. cat. Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne, La Bibliothèques des Arts, 1990.