These characteristic panels by Guardi show some of the most instantly recognizable sights of Venice: the great island monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, with the church designed by Andrea Palladio, and to the right the eastern end of the Giudecca, now the site of the Hotel Cipriani, seen in the afternoon; and a section of the Giudecca some way to the right, beyond the church of the Zitelle, seen to the left of the Punta della Dogana, (the Customs House), beyond which are the church of Santa Maria della Salute, designed by Baldassare Longhena, and the gothic apses of the church of the former abbey of San Gregorio, seen in morning light.
The two views are taken from the west end of the Molo, and although, as the part of the Giudecca between the two is omitted, these do not constitute a single panorama, Guardi knew that the compositions made ideal pendants. The viewpoint is that of a key work of the 1760s, the outsize view of the Bacino at Waddesdon Manor, Oxfordshire (A. Morassi, Guardi, Venice, 1973, no. 419, by afternoon light), which was recapitulated in the brilliant canvas in the Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris and a further picture in a French private collection (Morassi, nos. 420-1). It is not surprising that the left section of the Bacino composition became one of Guardi's stock subjects, Morassi recording twenty-eight autograph variants (his nos. 422-35 and 442-55), all with differing boats and cloud effects. Of these, three others, all in private collections (Morassi, nos. 426, 449 and 454), like this unrecorded example, have pendants of the Dogana and the Salute from the same viewpoint, while another, in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena (Morassi, no. 425), has a pendant showing the same buildings from the opposite direction. Morassi records a total of nineteen views of the Dogana with the Salute from the same angle as the second panel, all shown by morning light for architectural effect (his nos. 472-3, 476-86 and 491-6), as well as ten of the Punta della Dogana (nos. 497-506).
While Guardi customarily worked on canvas, he evidently liked to use relatively pale soft-wood panels for works on a small scale from the 1770s onwards, possibly influenced by the practice of Dutch painters of the previous century for whose work there was a significant market in Venice. The use of such supports meant that it was possible to achieve sharp detail of the kind evidenced in both the architecture and the figures in these works. Four of the other views of San Giorgio Maggiore (Morassi, nos. 435, 446, 452 and 455, measuring respectively 18 x 29, 20 x 32, 19 x 24 and 24 x 35 cm.) are on panel, as are two of the views of the Dogana and the Salute (Morassi, nos. 485 and 486, measuring 17 x 32 and 18 x 32 cm. respectively). Among the larger works on panel are the Tower of Marghera (London, National Gallery, inventory no. 2524; Morassi, no. 664, 21.3 x 41.3 cm.), and the as yet unpublished Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore, recently acquired through Christie's by the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff (24.1 x 35.3 cm.).