Lancashire man paints his very own Canaletto… in his garage!

Stuart touching up his artwork
Stuart touching up his artwork

Stuart Calderbank parks his car alongside the Grand Canal in Venice. Then he strolls from his garage the few yards to his home in Park Road, Cliviger, Lancashire.

For the view from the Ponte Degli Scalzi is one he painted in a huge mural on the wall of the garage he built himself.

A skilled joiner with only school experience of art behind him, Stuart decided to try his hand at painting the mural after building the garage on land he bought nearly 20 years ago.

Because he enjoyed looking at pictures by great artists, he was visiting the National Gallery in London when he saw Canaletto’s The Grand Canal with S. Simeone Piccolo and decided that it was to be his first artistic outing. It is a classical Canaletto view which includes the church of San Simeone Piccolo.

A copy of the painting was divided into small squares and the garage wall covered in a similar number of squares – each much larger. He then proceeded to sketch the outline on to the wall square by square.

“It was awkward because the perspective was difficult to grasp,” he explained. “It was only on a subsequent visit to Venice when I was halfway through the painting that I managed to find out where the view was taken from. I thought it was from the bridge – but the right hand bank seemed out of perspective.”

Canaletto mural

He later discovered that in fact the Ponte degli Scalzi – the last bridge to be built across the Grand Canal – was, in fact, built after the painting had been completed. And art historians agree that
the two sides of the painting seem to have been considered separately, with the right half set at a lower level than the left.

Stuart took photographs of many of the major buildings featured on the painting so that he could interpret it more accurately.

While the left bank of the Grand Canal was pretty much as it was nearly 300 years ago when Canaletto painted it, the other side had mostly been demolished to make way for the central railway station, apart from another church, Santa Maria di Nazareth, known as the Scalzi (shoeless) because it was the church of the barefoot Carmelites.

But, as Stuart pointed out, at least because he was able to understand the problems created by copying the painting, and it enabled him to overcome them. His own photographs gave him an added insight to some of the finer points of the buildings.

Stuart, who admits that he has plenty of patience, took several months to complete his painting using a cream Sandtex exterior wall paint – ‘guaranteed for five years’ – and mixing it with tins of pure red, yellow and blue, black and white and terracotta to create other colours.

“Mixing the paint made it very thick and therefore quite difficult to control in small areas. I had to ensure the brush only held a small amount and work very carefully. Canaletto amazed me with the minute detail he got into his pictures. I was unable to get such fine detail because of the paint I was using.”

Even so, anyone looking at the picture like many villagers and visitors fortunate enough to be passing when the garage door is open, I gazed in awe at his creation. Most would love a garage wall
given as much care and skill. Much better than a complex of shelves and bric-a-brac dumped for safe storage.

Now aged 70, Stuart considers that for his first attempt it is “good enough for me. I am not a natural artist but enjoyed doing it.”

He has since completed another painting on a wall at the back of his house – The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano. “I don’t particularly like simple landscapes,” he said even though two framed landscapes by artistic relatives hang on one side wall in the garage. “I like a picture with some interest in it. That is why I like Canaletto – because of the amazing detail and his artistic skill.”

If the garage wall takes viewers’ breath away, Stuart’s real skill is with wood where his joinery training and expertise are evident all round his home. A table includes a picture of the Last Supper – done in veneer fashion, but using pieces of various colours of wood up to three-sixteenths of an inch thick. He copied each section on paper, cut it out and outlined it on wood which he then cut to shape before finally putting all the pieces together like a jigsaw.

A similar piece of artwork is on the top of a beautiful wooden chest used for DVD storage, and there are others dotted round the house with various items of furniture skilfully crafted in various woods.

For the man who has only lived in two houses all of his life, his home really has many personal touches.

Stuart’s early years were spent in a house opposite Honeyholme Lane in Cliviger, and he moved to his present home some years ago. When Stuart got there, however, it had a small yard at the rear but no garden, which was why in 1996 he bought the land opposite the house and alongside the River Calder.

“It came with a nearby house but I kept the ‘for sale’ sign on the house and sold it because I simply wanted the land for a garage and garden.”

His was one of many gardens open this summer when a number of Cliviger residents allowed access to their gardens one Sunday for the first time in aid of the Village Hall fund, attracting visitors from many parts of the country. It was a popular event which will almost certainly be repeated in future years.

And just as the wall painting was something new to Stuart, so was creating his garden. Entered by an oak lych gate – which he carved in the style of the 16th century – the garden includes a wattle and daub summer house, and more than 1,000 tons of infill was used to build up the area bordering the River Calder to strengthen the bank. Within yards of his garden, the bank had already been eroded to such an extent that a house had to be demolished as being unsafe. Thanks to his work, that is unlikely to happen to his beautiful retreat.

With a name like Calderbank, it was ironic that the bank from the river of the same name would provide him with a spot which was exactly what he required.

When Stuart decided that the extra land was the only way he was going to be able to build a garage within a convenient distance from his home he didn’t realise what he was getting into.

His enthusiasm, artistic skill and thousands of hours of work have produced a perfect result. And the extra touch of quality and skill is the view from the Ponte Degli Scalzi. Parking alongside the Grand Canal is something few people can do – even those fortunate enough to live in Venice.

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