“The impression made on me by Venice is beyond my power to describe; how the pompous Venetian palaces rise up out of the water as if conjured to appear (…)”1 wrote Carl Morgenstern to his parents in 1837, when on his return journey from Rome he first caught sight of La Serenissima. During that first stay he made only a few drawings and painted one or two watercolours, which back in Germany would serve him as a basis for some of his finished studio paintings of the early 1840s.2 His second trip of 1846 was to be rather more productive and even yielded some oil studies.3
Whereas in previous paintings of Venice Morgenstern had concerned himself primarily with the accurate reproduction of the architecture of the palaces and churches, always bathed in warm sunlight, the focus of this painting of 1868 is quite different. It shows a low, late afternoon sun breaking through the clouds and shining down onto the Canale della Giudecca. The church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the left shore is still in shade, as is the foreground, from which a rowing boat glides away into the gleaming canal beyond. At the centre of the composition, outlined by sunlight, is the famous church of Santa Maria della Salute and the much lower Dogana building in front of it. What is captured here with such immediacy is that instant when the play of light and shade transforms the buildings’ silhouettes. The sun is already bathing the Ducal Palace and the Campanile of San Marco rising up behind it in the warm light of evening. It is this dramatic spectacle of clouds, light, and water that so fascinates Morgenstern and that he reproduces with such skill. The architecture seems restrained by comparison and in places looks almost like a backdrop, though the buildings remain clearly recognizable.
Letter from Carl Morgenstern to his parents of 7 October 1837, transcribed by Inge Eichler, Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt.↩
Carl Morgenstern und die Landschaftsmalerei seiner Zeit, exh. cat. Museum Giersch, Frankfurt a. M. 2011, Petersberg 2011, p. 185↩
Cf. Carl Morgenstern und die Landschaftsmalerei seiner Zeit, exh. cat. Museum Giersch, Frankfurt a. M. 2011, Petersberg 2011, p. 186 fig. 77.↩