In February 2004 my wife and I spent several days in Venice with my parents. We booked an old Venetian apartment through a website called Venetian-Rentals. It was lavishly furnished with old books and paintings. The plan for this trip was to get some fresh reference for me to do some new paintings of Italy. At the time I had no plans to paint the Rialto Fish Market.
On one particular day we checked out the fish market by the Rialto Bridge and I came across this amazing scene, full of life, movement and colour.
Painting in Stages
Stage 1. To begin with I did a 14” x 10” preparation study of the Rialto Fish Market. I drew out the composition with a B pencil on some very rough Italian hand made paper from Fabriano, 28” x 20”.
For Stage 2, I applied a mix of yellow, cadmium yellow and lemon yellow to set the right base tones for the sheeting which protects the market from the elements. The brush used was a Stratford & York size 20.
Stage 3. Once the yellow areas had dried, I made a red mix of Vermillion Hue and Cadmium Red and began to apply it wet on wet on the floor area to re-create the effect of the red tarpaulin being reflected in the wet flooring. The heavily textured paper helped to keep this part of the painting loose and fresh. The tarpaulins of Rialto Fish Market were rendered wet on dry as I wanted to have their edges clearly defined.
Stage 4. This part of the painting is where I began to form the title in my mind, Rosso e Nero (red and black).
I made up three separate colours in saucers, Vandyke Brown, Payne’s Grey and Lamp Black and began to build up washes with these stronger colours for the floor areas. The background arches were picked out using the point of the number 20 Stratford and York brush.
Stage 5. Over the years I have spent hours observing and drawing people in urban settings. I have developed a style where it is possible to identify different individuals by their stance, gesture and movement.
I tend to draw with the brush for each figure rather than relying in lots of pencil work, but at the same time, I don’t get too involved in too much unnecessary detail. I want the figures to appear as though they are part of the painting and yet moving through the scene.
Stage 6. It was simply a matter of painting the figures that were going to bring the scene to life. The danger is to over work them and make them look too static, so it’s vital that the brush marks are kept simple and fresh.
Stage 7. The last few figures really helped to make this scene work. The older couple look typically Venetian. They are strolling around the various stalls, looking for the right piece of fish for their evening meal. Will it be risotto or pasta for their starter? How will they cook their main meal and with what vegetables? Building up the darker areas around the figures helps to add depth and substance to the overall scenario.
Stage 8. The final painting which was sold from my 20th anniversary exhibition in 2004 to some friends of ours which I’m pleased about. I get to see the original of Rialto Fish Market every time we visit them.