This black-and-white etching presents a view of the Grand Canal in Venice bordered by Gothic, classical and Baroque architecture. In the distance, a gondola glides along the water.

Clarence Gagnon

(Montréal 1881 – Montréal 1942)


Grand Canal, Venise

[Grand Canal, Venice]



24.1 x 29 cm 

Purchased in 1930 (or before)

Musée national des beaux‑arts du Québec collection, 1934.163

Photo: MNBAQ, Patrick Altman

Clarence Gagnon learned the technique of etching just a year before producing Grand Canal, Venise [Grand Canal, Venice]. And yet the impression of depth and the attention to detail are striking. The play of hatching textures the walls of the Gothic building in the foreground. In the distance stands the Santa Maria della Salute Basilica, rendered in fine, precise lines. The large untextured areas recall the horizontal compositions of the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who influenced Gagnon and many other Canadian artists. Venice was a favourite subject among Canadian artists who went to Italy to further their training.    

As a painter, Clarence Gagnon is best known for the colourful rural Quebec landscapes he executed in a style that was widely repeated by later artists. But it was primarily as a printmaker that he made a name for himself and acquired an excellent reputation. The National Gallery of Canada bought quite a few of his etchings in 1909. Although Gagnon continued to pull prints from earlier plates, he created no new etchings after 1917.


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To create Grand Canal, Venice and other etchings, Clarence Gagnon first drew the composition on a copper plate and then etched it in his studio. The etching technique consists of coating a metal plate with a waxy ground, which the artist scratches off with a hard, pointed tool to produce a drawing. The plate is then immersed in a bath of acid that “bites” into the exposed metal. Lastly, the lines etched by the acid are inked and the plate is put through a printing press. The image transferred to the paper is the reverse of the drawing.

Clarence Gagnon

(Montréal 1881 – Montréal 1942)


Printing plate for Grand Canal, Venise

[Grand Canal, Venice]

near 1905


18.8 x 25.3 cm

Purchased in 1989, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Gr.1989(1967.1562).5cc

Photo: MMFA, Jean-François Brière