Walter Henry Sweet, ‘The Bridge of Sighs, Venice’, ca. 1913, Screaming Abdabs Gallery

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice c.1913 by Walter Henry Sweet (after John Shapland).

The eloquent delineation of this superb etching, rendered by Walter Henry Sweet (after John Shapland), in the earlier part of his career, depicts ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ in Venice. It forms the spirited ramification of a protracted history in Venetian archictecture and artistic influence, through generations of both Venetian and English architects, artists, writers and one famous lover.

As a celebration of Valentine’s Day, the first part of an historic study by Screaming Abdabs Gallery will be published on 14 February 2018, giving an insight into these individual components, interlaced with additional tales of Venetian prisoners, lovers and how the career of Walter Henry Sweet, an artist of immense potential, was cruelly thwarted by the First World War.

The architect: Antonio Contino (commissioned by the Doge between 1595 and 1614) to design and build this unique 11 meter wide bridge, to provide the much needed access across the narrow Rio di Palazzo canal which flows between the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and the Palazzo delle Prigioni. As both buildings housed chambers of punishment or death they needed a discreet method by which prisoners could be easily commuted between the two locations.

The lover: On 26 July 1755 Giacomo Casanova, the infamous Venetian adventurer, writer and lover was arrested on grounds of ‘an affront to religion and common decency’. He subsequently became one of the most famous inmates of the Doge’s Palace. He describes in his ‘Histoire de ma vie’ (History of My Life) of his intrepid escape through the lead roof upon which he re-entered the palace and absconded through the Porta della Carta, hoodwinking a feckless guard on the way. In reference to his love life Casanova wrote, ‘I have loved women to a frenzy’. He is reported to have seduced at least 132 women during his lifetime of 73 years.

The artists Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Tommaso Antonio Visentini, Antonio Canaletto, Joseph Mallord William Turner, John Singer Sargent, Sir Frank William Brangwyn, John Shapland all created their own impressions of the exterior.

The writer: Lord Byron, wrote about the bridge in ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ canto 4, stanza 1 (1818).

The lover’s challenge: It is rumoured that if lovers manage to kiss one another while gliding under the ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ on a gondola at sunset, to the sound of the chiming bells of St. Mark’s Square, they will be granted eternal love and happiness. The origin of this legend is unknown and the opportunity to plan this romantic scenario is difficult as the bells do not ring on every hour.

This original etching by Walter Henry Sweet of The Bridge of Sighs will be available to purchase at on 14 February 2018. Signed in pencil by both W H Sweet and John Shapland, on cream laid paper with the blindstamp of the Fine Art Trade Guild below the lower left image corner.

Signature: The Bridge of Sighs is after a painting by John Shapland. It is signed by Walter Henry Sweet in pencil and also by John Shapland.

Image rights: Copyright of photographs of the Etching belong to Screaming Abdabs Gallery

The Devon and Exeter Annual Exhibition at the Elands Gallery in the early 1900’s

A Devon Sketchbook by Walter Henry Sweet, A.T. Littlewood

The Bridge of Sighs is embossed by the FINE ART ISMHG TRADE GUILD with a pre-1915 stamp. This would indicate that the print is an approved limited edition of no more than 850 prints although many editions were much smaller. The number of editions for this etching is unknown as is the location of the original painting by John Shapland.

About Walter Henry Sweet

British, 1889-1943, Exeter, Devon, UK, based in Devon and Scotland