Giovanni Antonio Canal, born on October 7, 1697, son of painter Bernardo Canal, hence his nickname Canaletto.
He served his apprenticeship with his father and his brother, and began his career as a theatrical scene painter, which was his father's occupation. Canaletto began painting in his famous topographical style after a visit to Rome in 1719. Canaletto, however, is best known for his grand scenes of the canals of Venice and the Doge's Palace.
Many of Canaletto's early works, contrary to the custom of the time, were painted from nature (rather than from sketches of the scene taken back to be worked on in the artist's studio).
Many of his pictures were sold to Englishmen on their Grand Tour. It was merchant Joseph Smith who acted as an agent for Canaletto, helping him sell his paintings to other Englishmen. In the 1740s Canaletto's market was disrupted when the War of the Austrian Succession led to a reduction in the number of British visitors to Venice. In 1746 Canaletto moved to London, to be closer to his market.
He remained in England until 1755, painting views of London and of his patrons' castles and houses. Canaletto's work began to suffer from repetitiveness, losing its traditional fluidity, and became mechanical to the point that the English art critic George Vertue suggested that the man painting under the name 'Canaletto' was an imposter. Canaletto gave public demostrations of his work to refute this claim; however, his reputation never fully recovered in his lifetime.
After his return to Venice Canaletto was elected to the Venetian Academy in 1763. In his later years he often worked from old sketches, but he sometimes produced surprising new compostions. He was willing to make subtle alternations to topography for artistic effect. He continued to paint until his death in 1768.