Is Venice Better by Brush Stroke or Camera?

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From early impressionist painters to today's pre-eminent photographers and filmmakers, artists have constantly found inspiration in Venice's enchanting canals and stunning monuments.


But can they capture the soul of the city? Swipe to compare the work of Claude Monet, Paul Signac, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent against the real locations that inspired their paintings.

claude monet

Initially, Monet was hesitant to travel to Venice, remarking that the canal city was "too beautiful to paint" and "not renderable." Many of his contemporaries had painted the city before him, and Monet feared that his art would be cliché. At 68, Monet finally made his first and only trip to Venice, and it was there that he created some of his most memorable paintings.


"Venice: The Grand Canal" artwork provided by Deagostini via Getty Images; Photo by Elizabeth Pollaert Smith/Getty Images

During his trip, British socialite Mary Hunter invited Monet and his wife Alice to stay at Palazzo Barbaro, a popular gathering place for Venice's artistic community. 


"Venice: The Grand Canal" captures Monet's view of the Grand Canal from his residence at the Palazzo Barbaro. 


"San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk" artwork provided by National Museum & Galleries of Wales Enterprises Limited/Heritage Images via Getty Images; Photo by Joe Daniel/Getty Images

"San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk" is the most famous work from Monet's 1908 trip. While many artists before him had focused on accurately depicting Venice's churches and canals, Monet concentrated on capturing the essence of the city. He played with light and color to create dream-like illusions while still maintaining the integrity of the scene.


"The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore" artwork provided by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images; Photo by Morrison1977/Getty Images

By the end of his visit, Monet, like so many others before him, was completely enamored with Venice. He regretted that he did not have more time to spend in the city and intended to return the following year.

paul signac

French artist Paul Signac is another widely-known neo-impressionsist who transformed the Venetian landscape in his artwork. Signac is famous for his use of pointillism and experimentation with color theory, his ultimate goal being to achieve harmony of color in his artwork.


"Grand Canal (Venice)" artwork provided by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images; Photo by Myloupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 1884, Signac met Monet and Georges Seurat, two prominent artists who deeply influenced Signac's own works. Signac stepped away from Monet's fluid brushstrokes and instead emulated Seurat's neo-impressionist style, breaking his brushstrokes down into small blocks of color to create a pointillist effect. 

"Venice, The Pink Cloud" artwork provided by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images; Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Signac was passionate about sailing, so painting the illusory water of Venice's famous canals proved an appropriate task for the artist. His brief 1905 and 1909 sailing trips to Venice resulted in a number of colorful masterpieces, including "Grand Canal (Venice)" and "Venice, The Pink Cloud."

pierre-auguste renoir

In 1881, 40-year-old Renoir ventured out of France for the first time, his mission to study the works of the other artists he admired. After traveling to Algeria and Spain, the next stop on Renoir's journey was Italy.


"Bay of Venice" artwork provided by Fine Art Images via Getty Images; Photo by Spooh/Getty Images

In late October of 1881, Renoir arrived in Venice. Just like many other artists, Renoir painted Venice's unique cityscape, including the distinctive tower of San Giorgio Maggiore. With its light colors and sweeping brush strokes, "Bay of Venice" became one of Renoir's signature Venetian works.


"The Piazza San Marco, Venice" artwork provided by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images; Photo by FSachs78/Getty Images

Renoir's vibrant, sketch-like depiction of Piazza San Marco adds an impressionist's touch to the famous square. He renders the passersby and the pigeons with simple smudges of deep blue, capturing their essence with little to no detail.


"Gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice" artwork provided by Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images; Photo by Relaxfoto.de/Getty Images

Gondolas are the universally recognized icons of Venice, and Renoir's artistic interpretation of the age-old ritual of riding in one remains relevant to this day.

john singer sargent

John Singer Sargent was an American expatriate from birth. He was born in Florence in 1856 and subsequently spent most of his life in Europe. Sargent was a wildly popular portrait painter, and while this legacy persists to this day, Sargent's private works reveal another side to his artistic persona. Sargent was as a restless painter, constantly moving from place to place in search of new inspiration, yet he always returned to his spiritual home: Venice.


"Rio Delle Due Torri" artwork provided by Barney Burstein/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images; Photo by Craig Gray/EyeEm/Getty Images

Alongside his portraits, Sargent painted hundreds of landscape scenes that were not intended for the public eye. The canal town of Venice became the subject of his private works, most of which did not leave his studio until his death. 


"View of the Grand Canal in Venice" artwork provided by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images; Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Sargent possessed the striking ability to reveal the personality of each of his portrait subjects, a skill that also proved useful in his landscape painting. Sargent transformed the impressionist style in new ways, using watercolors and oils to infuse life into the familiar subject of Venice's canals.

up next: van gogh vs. real life

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Vincent Van Gogh lived in many European cities, but his most creative and prolific period as an artist was when he lived in the Provençal town of Arles, on the Rhône River in Southern France. See the inspiration behind Van Gogh's artwork in First Impressions: Van Gogh vs. Real Life.