(Beaune 1821–1911 Paris)
Sunrise over the Bacino di San Marco
Signed, lower left: ‘Ziem’
Oil on canvas
21 ½ x 27 ½ inches (54.6 x 69.9 cm)
Private Collection, North Carolina.
With its expressively painted features and vivid palette, this mesmerizing view of the Bacino di San Marco is an impressive example of the Venetian views for which Félix Ziem is best known. Ziem trained at the École d’Architecture et des Beaux-Arts in Dijon and quickly achieved success as a watercolorist and painter. He was one of the most widely-travelled artists of the 19th-century, painting stunning views of the cities he visited. Although Ziem frequently ventured around Europe and beyond—journeying as far as Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia—it was Venice that captured his heart and imagination. He first visited La Serenissima during his trip through Italy in 1841 and returned over twenty times, making his final visit in 1892. Ziem’s views of Venice earned him both public and critical success at the Salon in Paris, where he regularly exhibited from 1849 to 1868. He achieved considerable renown in his lifetime, and his paintings were the first by a living artist to enter the collections of the Louvre.
Following in the footsteps of Canaletto, Guardi and Turner, Ziem was the preeminent painter of Venice of his day. The poet and critic Théophile Gautier, a contemporary and friend of the artist, wrote of him: “Every artist has an idealized homeland, often far from the land of his birth, where his talents are at home in the atmosphere, to which his spirit returns when freed, a land where his work bears its finest fruit, and Ziem’s homeland is Venice. He may travel, go east, west, north, south, but he always returns to his first love, and in Venice his art has its true home.” Ziem’s deep affection for and intimate knowledge of the city is evident in the way he captures this scene.
Rendered with remarkable skill and finesse, this lyrical work presents an almost impressionistic view of one of Venice’s most iconic locations. On the left side of the composition is the Molo—the wharf just off the Piazza di San Marco that historically served as the ceremonial entrance to Venice. Ziem has here adjusted the architecture of the cityscape to make all of the principal monuments visible, including the Doge’s palace, the Biblioteca Marciana, the Zecca (the city’s mint), as well as the campanile and one of the several cupolas of the Basilica di San Marco. The two famous columns surmounted by sculptures of the city’s patron saints (Theodore with the slain dragon on the left and the winged lion, the symbol of Mark, on the right) also stand prominently by the water’s edge, marking the entrance to the city.
Ziem achieves this fictitious view by positioning the viewer on a pier that juts out from the Molo. Two dock hands dressed in vibrant red and yellow costume are shown at work in the foreground while a gondola laden with passengers seated beneath a velvet canopy shoves off into the lagoon. The composition is balanced out by a small sloop on the right that sails through the peaceful water. This exquisite work is characterized throughout by Ziem’s vigorous brushwork and masterful handling of light effects. The golden light of the sunrise permeates the sky and even reflects off the water, injecting flashes of rich color into the sea and brightening the architecture with a warm glow.
Ziem was a prolific artist, and his output of Venetian views is particularly extensive. The present view of the city may have been a favorite of the artist, as he returned to it several times throughout his career, producing several variants from this vantage point at different times of day. This painting stands out among these works for the vibrancy of color, bravura brushwork, and expert translation of the morning light into paint. The present work has until recently been unknown to scholars. Ziem’s authorship of this work has been confirmed by Mathias Ary Jan, Davis Pluskwa, and Gérard Fabre of the Association Félix Ziem, the authenticating body for works by the artist.
 Jean Victor Bates, “Félix Ziem, The Famous Artist: The Story of a Wonderful Life,” in Cassell’s Magazine, 1908, p. 76.