San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

After a storm over San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, sun breaks through and light is reflected hypnotically on the choppy water. Acrylics on paper – 31 x 23 cm


San Giorgio Maggiore is a small island close to the larger island of Venice. The sixteenth-century architect Andrea Palladio built the famous church.

The subject of the painting is not so much San Giorgio Maggiore but the water of the lagoon in front of it. The viewpoint is the Riva degli Schiavoni on Venice itself. The numinous connection between the urban and the natural that is Venice is more than ever in danger from climate change, as this article explains.

There is no law prohibiting artists from painting scenes of Venice – though looking at the tourist shops that sometimes seems to be a good idea). But paintings of Venice invite negative comparison with too many great works to mention. In some seasons it seems more natural to use watercolour, to portray grey buildings merging into grey sea and sky. In high summer everything is transformed into riotous colour, inviting an extravagant oil palette. Perhaps this piece is a compromise. Washes and glazes of colour in the sky, more opaque paint in the treatment of the sea.

Above all, this is a piece about light. After a thunderous storm over San Giorgio Maggiore, the sun breaks through the cloud. Light is reflected hypnotically on the choppy surface of the lagoon. Small boats buzz back and forth, and in the centre foreground, the wake of a passing motoscafo has further fragmented the light.

Here’s another building in the Venetian lagoon, a ruined church. Or perhaps this treatment of shadows and reflections on a canal.