Bellotto was an Italian urban landscape painter or vedutista, and printmaker in etching famous for his vedute of European cities (Dresden, Vienna, Turin and Warsaw). He was the pupil and nephew of the famous Giovanni Antonio Canal Canaletto and sometimes used the latter’s illustrious name, signing himself as Bernardo Canaletto.
Bellotto was born in Venice, the son of Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto and Fiorenza Canal, sister of the famous Canaletto, and studied in his uncle’s workshop. From 1747 to 1758 he moved to Dresden, following an invitation from King August III of Poland. He created paintings of the cities Dresden and Pirna and their surroundings.
His international reputation grew, and in 1758 he accepted an invitation from Empress Maria Theresa to come to Vienna, where he painted views of the city’s monuments. In 1761 Bellotto left Vienna for Munich, where he spent almost a year. In a letter to her cousin Maria Antonia of Bavaria, Empress Maria Theresia had praised Bellotto’s artistic achievements at the Viennese court. Logically, he was commissioned works by the ruling family of Bavaria. He painted a panoramic view of Munich and two vedute of Nymphenburg Palace for the elector of Bavaria. At the end of 1761, Bellotto returned to Dresden.
When King August III of Poland, also an Elector of Saxony, who usually lived in Dresden, died in 1763, Bellotto’s work became less important in Dresden. As a consequence, he left Dresden to seek employment in Saint Petersburg at the court of Catherine II of Russia. On his way to Saint Petersburg, however, Bellotto accepted an invitation in 1764 from Poland’s newly elected King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski to become his court painter in Warsaw from 1768. Here he remained some 16 years, for the rest of his life, as court painter to the King.
Bellotto’s early work bears strong features of his uncle’s style, becoming more individual and distinguished in later years with clear inspiration of Dutch landscape painting with massed clouds, cast shadows and rich foliage. His colouring is colder and characterized by a steely grey.
The last period of the artist’s work is assessed as distinct from the earlier stages with emphasis on the immediacy of observation, striving for a generic treatment and ability to capture the atmosphere of the place and visible transformation of his painting which then became more colourful with warmer tones.
Bernardo Bellotto died in Warsaw in 1780 and was buried in Capuchin Church at Miodowa Street.