I have been to Venice three times. In 1972 I traveled by train with my high school girl friend Rosemary, and we visited Venice for four hours on a hot July afternoon. I was not impressed. The crowds were horrible, and the water filled with floating garbage. I have no pictures.
Last year we visited by bus in chilly March with a group from UW Whitewater, and we found scant crowds, and it was cold. But the beauty of the city disarmed me, the bridges, water, elegant facades, even the ladies dripping in furs who commanded the street in front of the Venice opera house, all took my breath away. I still dream of a little restaurant in a back street where we paid inordinate sums of cash and were fed the best fresh seafood of my life. I took scads of photos and was beginning to fall in love.
Then we took a Mediterranean cruise this month, flying into Marco Polo airport and then boarding a huge Holland America ship. It began and ended in Venice, and the city captured my heart forever.
Backing up a bit, specifically to 1998. I had lost my best friend, a fine artist and teacher, to cancer, and had decided to start painting again. It was clear to me that a long life was not a sure thing, and that there was no point in waiting until I retired to restart my art. So I took a summer watercolor class with Amy Arntson, a fine painter, at Whitewater. The big final class project was a still life, and I used one that included two art books in the painting, both of which belonged to the instructor. One was Venice Sketchbook, by Huck Scarrey. Two years ago I bought a copy of this slim volume of watercolor and pen and ink sketches for myself, and I revisited it before our trip to Venice this month.
Scarrey has clearly lived in Venice, seen its tourist attractions, but also its back streets and islands. He has been there all times of year, all weather. I love his sketches, the quick and the complete, and reading the book before we arrived helped me decide what to look for, and reading it afterward reminds me of what I've already seen myself, and makes me want to return to see more.
I have real difficulty in drawing and sketching en plein air, especially when time is short, and there are other people's schedules to consider. But I take my camera with me everywhere, and I was interested to see that my photos conform to Scarrey's divisions in his book. Perhaps I can use my personal photos to create a sketchbook of my own, although created at home and after the fact.
Here are some of Scarrey's chapter headings, and my photos that fit each category.
CANALS: Canals are the streets for vehicles (boats) in Venice, and the Grand Canal is the main street. The canals are busy with all manner of boats - water taxis, vaporettos, fishing boats, cruise ships, all use the canals. But the areas where people walk are free of traditional vehicles, which contributes to a sort of quiet that I like very much.
BRIDGES: There are hundreds, including the famous Bridge of Sighs, which is still swaddled in plastic for renovation. This photo is of the famous Rialto Bridge.
FACADES: The old buildings of Venice are build in the water, not just next to it, a fact that always amazes me. The warm Mediterranean colors, the Moorish windows, the extravagant chimney pots, all are worth considering.
SAINT MARK'S SQUARE: This is what everyone comes to see, the Basilica di San Marco, with it's fantastic pillars and domes, tiles and mosaics. It is the heart of Venice, and these days while there are still legions of pigeons, there are even more people. Still, I catch my breath a little every time I see it and the famous bell tower across the plaza. I took this photo through the glass of the observation lounge of the Niew Amsterdam, our cruise ship. It gave me a very different perspective than I had from standing at ground level.
MASKS: When we visited in March last year it was just after carnival, and I found myself taking photo after photo of masks in shop windows. This time I didn't as much, so the photograph is from last year's trip. I sometimes dream about having a gorgeous mask, and a heavy hooded cloak to wear to Halloween events in chilly Wisconsin. Not this year, though.
ISLANDS: As we flew into Marco Polo airport this year I could see that Venice has many many islands, many connected by canals. But there are large islands that can only be reached by boat. Last year we visited two of them, Murano, where famous glass factories still operate, and Burano, a fishing village that also is the home of world-famous lace makers. I love Burano best for the brightly colored houses, many with laundry hanging out the windows to dry.
Scarrey also has other chapters about the seasons in Venice, and of the many docks and boats of the area, though I don't have many pictures that correspond to those areas. I know that nearly everyone who paints eventually paints scenes like these I've posted here, because they are beautiful. I will paint them as well, though probably for my private sketchbooks, more as a way of reliving the experience than with any though of offering the results for anything public.