Bellotto: The Königstein Views Reunited ★★★ The National Gallery | Jul 22 - Oct 31, 2021 - FREE


Bellotto: The Königstein Views Reunited is a small exhibition of big paintings. Five large canvases from Bellotto's time as court painter in Dresden in 1756 give us varied views of the massive fortress at Königstein, reminiscent of Edinburgh Castle standing as it does on a rocky outcrop. Three paintings depict scenes around the outside of the fortifications and two show life within the walls. Almost photographic in style, the canvases present an extensive use of the camera obscura which allowed the artist to produce highly detailed depictions of his subjects, especially architectural ones. Bellotto's technique with the device was not as expert as that of his more famous uncle, Canaletto, and perspectives here are often a little skewed. The artist's light sources also sometimes seem somewhat confused, creating an impression of contradictory shadows. Inside the fortress, whilst laundry women hang out the washing, everyone else strolls around and chats. It all seems very relaxed and almost bucolic. However, it is worth noting that many of the figures populating the paintings are apparently simply copied and pasted in from contemporary engravings. When Bellotto moved to Warsaw, he continued to paint urban scenes which employed a wider and more sun-drenched colour palette. They feel more vibrant than these works which can leave a rather gloomy impression. While for us a question mark hovers over the status of Bellotto as a major artist, it remains fascinating to see these five impressive paintings shown together for the first time in 250 years.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Image: The Fortress of Königstein from the North, Bernardo Bellotto, about 1756-8 © The National Gallery, London

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