This painting, together with The Grand Canal from Palazzo Balbi towards the Rialto, was bought by the City of Venice in 1983. These masterpieces by the young Canaletto were originally both part of a series of four works, owned by the Princes of Liechtenstein in Vienna (the other two are currently in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid). This set is a highlight of the painter’s early work.
Canaletto added to the typical repertoire of "vedute" (view paintings), usually centered on St Mark’s Square, by revealing new vantage points and focusing as much on the Grand Canal as the lesser known corners of Venice. This is the case with the River of Mendicanti, where the artist depicts a working-class area, portrayed in all its coarse beauty. There is less contrast here in the color tones, which is a precursor to the luminosity found in works from the second half of the 1720s, while the characters lose some of the forcefulness seen in his early works and are illustrated with greater detail. Their importance within the context of the painting also becomes more obvious, given their larger and more accurate scale in relation to the buildings.