Hans HEYSEN | The Dogana and the Salute, Venice

Germany 1877 – Australia 1968
Australia from 1884; Europe, England 1899-1903

The Dogana and the Salute, Venice c.1902
watercolour on paper
Frame 44.0 (h) x 59.5 (w) x 4.0 (d) cm
Private Collection


Heysen’s arrival in Venice in September 1902 marked the beginning of his fourth and final year in Europe, a year devoted to an extensive tour of Italy. During eight weeks in Venice he diligently sketched along the canals, on the bridges and squares and in the churches, recording what he felt to be the true essence of the city. These impressions, in drawings or watercolours, include The Dogana and the Salute, Venice, which is in the form of a colour note. Recorded quickly on the spot, it captures not only the famous monuments—the Customs House at the entrance to the Grand Canal and behind it the domes of Santa Maria della Salute—but also the tranquil autumn weather, the warm light and the still water and reflections, with a palette of iridescent blues, reds and yellows.

Venice demanded a painting style that contrasted with his darker and more academic work in Paris. This is a clear, translucent watercolour, assured and fluent. Heysen was among the symbols of a mercantile and naval empire and found himself ready for the voyage home to South Australia. Immediately on return, he recalled the opal tints of the maritime city:

Venice, with all its glory of wonderful colours, was revealed to me—beautiful, rich, harmonious colours, with all the tints and play of the opal, everywhere. Every twist and corner of canals revealed fresh material for the sketchbook. A real artistic paradise this, where alone one can see the old Venetian masters in all their power and strength, and with the surroundings which influenced them.[1]

Rebecca Andrews

© Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008
Andrews, Hans Heysen, exhibition book, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008, p 42

[1] ‘A South Australian artist’, The Observer, Adelaide, 10 October 1903, p 38, col d-e