Lot 51. Francesco Guardi (Venice 1712 - 1793), Capriccio view of a Venetian campo, oil on canvas, 12⅜ by 10⅝ in.; 31.4 by 27 cm. Estimate: 200,000 - 300,000 USD. © Sotheby's.
Property from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sold to Benefit the Acquisition Fund.
Note: Datable to circa 1780, this dazzling canvas is a masterful example of Francesco Guardi’s remarkable skills in creating enchanting and convincing views from a pastiche of invented components. Within this imagined corner of Venice, his genius is found within the virtuosity of his brushstroke and poetic dynamism, both used here to conjure up the true essence of the city. In addition to their popularity among eighteenth century Grand Tourists, such capricci seem to have also been avidly collected by Venetians themselves, who enjoyed the whimsical rearrangement of familiar landmarks, sites, and characters.
A handful of figures, dogs, and shadows animate this sunny square. The blue dress of the elegant noblewoman at center echoes the cool tones of the crisp blue sky, which in turn pleasingly contrasts with the warm hues of the architectural details. Beyond the pedestal at left is an arched entrance to a church, beyond which rises a dome. A young mother near the center hurries her small child up a set of stairs that lead to the entrance of a building, beneath whose door stretches an arcaded portico that extends deep into the picture plane. At the far-right edge of the scene appears the foreshortened façade of a palazzo, with a woman leaning over a balcony attending to laundry. The costume of the female at center helps to date this painting to about 1780, as her feathered headdress was first made popular in the mid to late 1770s by Madame du Barry.
This painting closely compares to a larger capriccio on gouache by Guardi in the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris (fig. 1).1 Although that example differs in staffage and in the inclusion of a framing portico with a hanging lamp in the foreground, in both paintings, Guardi displays an intimate familiarity with a few works by Canaletto: the latter's painting of a capriccio with a courtyard and a portico (fig. 2),2 his preparatory drawing for the painting,3 and his related engraving of a portico with a lantern.4 Canaletto completed this painting in 1765 as a reception piece for the Venice Academy, and it was first publicly exhibited in Saint Mark’s Square in 1777 on the Feast of the Ascension.