Grand scene paintings recall splendor of 18th century Dresden

Nancy E. Edwards, curator of European Art at the Kimbell, in the Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) painting, The Campo San Giacometto di Rialto in Venice.

The Lure of Dresden: Bellotto at the Court of Saxony

Admission: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, $14 for ages 6–11, free for children under 6. Half-price on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays

Free admission to the museum’s permanent collection.


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Monday: Closed

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Friday: Noon-8 p.m.

Sunday: Noon-5 p.m.

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It took 729 years for the city of Dresden to become what was described as “the Florence on the Elbe” because of its architecture and art treasures. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that the first mention of the city was in 1216.

In 1945, it took British and American air force bombers only three days to destroy virtually the entire city.

But at the Kimbell Art Museum’s newest exhibition – The Lure of Dresden: Bellotto at the Court of Saxony – which runs from Feb. 10-April 28, visitors can get a glimpse of the city as it was in the 1700s, when it was one of the greatest cities in Europe.

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Bernardo Bellotto is recognized as one of the greatest view painters in history, acquiring his fame as the court painter for the elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II, who was also King Augustus III of Poland.

Some of the buildings destroyed in the devastating air raids of Feb. 13-15, 1945, were rebuilt after World War II, and the city is still rebuilding to its former glory with the aid of Bellotto’s pictorial legacy.

Over a decade, Bellotto produced dozens of depictions of the city and its environs, most measuring over eight feet in width.

Included in the exhibit are portraits and allegories of the elector and his queen, as well as view paintings of Venice and Saxony by Bellotto’s uncle and teacher Antonio Canaletto and Dresden court painter Alexander Thiele.

Nancy E. Edwards, curator of European Art at the Kimbell, speaks of Bellotto’s ability to create perspective – to make the buildings recede into space – saying he probably learned it from his uncle.

“We think he used optical tools like the camera obscura [similar to what we know as a pinhole camera] to do that, but at the end of the day he’s an artist,” Edwards said.

“He would adjust things. He knew how to frame his work, what to accentuate, and very often you get just this wonderful light — like how its falling so strongly on that church building — and then it’s into shadow, but also lots of anecdote [the depiction of a minor narrative incident in a painting] with these figures,” she said, gesturing to one of the paintings.

The first room of the Kimbell exhibition sets the stage, Edwards said, by introducing visitors to the Court of Dresden, which was one of the most important, and certainly spectacular, courts of 18th century Europe.

Augustus II’s father, also known as Augustus the Strong, had taken the grand tour of Europe, and he began to model Dresden on the cities and buildings he had seen, in particular Venice and Versailles, Edwards said.

Among the first paintings Bellotto completed after coming to the city was Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe, Above the Augustus Bridge.

“The dome of the Frauenkirche, a massive Protestant church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, dominates the scene; the church, decades in the building, had been completed just a few years before Bellotto’s arrival,” the Kimbell said in a news release on the exhibition.

“Near the end of the bridge rises the spire of the royal palace; just to its right are seen the first two levels of the Catholic cathedral, the Hofkirche, which would eventually feature its own spire, depicted in views of the town Bellotto painted later on. All of these monuments were either razed or gravely damaged in the bombings of 1945, but each has been rebuilt in the last 20 years,” the release said.

Edwards said one of the buildings that has been restored in Dresden is its paintings gallery – the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Old Masters of the Paintings Gallery.

It had closed for some renovations, opening up the possibility of a traveling exhibition.

“Our deputy director, George Shackelford, heard about this opportunity and knew Bellotto very well. These paintings are extremely prized, they are fantastic works and so it seemed like a wonderful thing to be able to bring them to Fort Worth,” she said. says that Dresden, in far eastern Germany, was minimally involved in the German war effort and “seemed an unlikely target for a major Allied air attack.”

In the initial attack on Feb. 18, 1945, RAF bombers dropped more than 1,400 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 1,100 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, creating a great firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians, said.

Later that day, more than 300 U.S. bombers began bombing Dresden’s railways, bridges and transportation facilities, killing thousands more.

The death toll is unknown, with estimates ranging from 35,000 to 135,000, although a relatively recent official German commission report concluded that up to 25,000 people had perished.

The Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse-Five is based on the firebombing of Dresden, which he witnessed as an American POW in the city.

The exhibition was organized by the Kimbell Art Museum and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and by a grant from the Crystelle Waggoner Charitable Trust, Bank of America, NA, Trustee