Francesco Guardi’s The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, ambitious in scale and startlingly innovative both in design and pictorial mood, stands among the masterpieces of 18th-century European art. Painted at the height of the artist’s career in the mid-1760s, the picture is prominently signed and exceptionally well preserved, having been offered for sale only once in its history. It will return to the auction room in Christie’s Old Masters Evening Sale on 6 July 2017, part of Classic Week in London (1-13 July).
‘We are confident that this great Guardi will arouse enormous interest from global collectors of masterpieces,’ says Henry Pettifer, Head of Christie’s Old Master Paintings in Europe, the Middle East, Russia and India. In the video above, the work can be seen returning to Venice for the first time in 200 years, to be exhibited during the opening days of the Biennale.
‘This is a monumental tour de force, which displays the full range of Guardi’s technical virtuosity, as well as his unique ability to capture the atmosphere and sensuous experience of being in Venice,’ says Pettifer.
Guardi’s impressionistic views of the city, bathed in atmospheric luminosity, anticipate the work of many of the most important painters of the 19th and 20th centuries who worked in Venice, such as J. M. W. Turner and Claude Monet.
Taking its vantage point from what is today the view from the Palazzo Sernagiotto, Guardi illustrates iconic landmarks including the Palazzo Civran, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, the Fruit Market and the elegant Rialto Bridge itself. This was the spectacular scene that would have greeted tourists in the 18th century as they entered Venice from the south. Through his delicacy of touch and masterful suffusing of colour, the artist creates an expression of atmosphere like no other view painter of his time.
One of the most recognisable sights in Venice, the bridge was completed in 1591 to the design of Antonio da Ponte, and is little changed today from how Guardi saw it in this view.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi
This palazzo, a thriving centre of commerce until the 19th century, was once the headquarters of the German merchants in the city — fondaco means store house; Tedeschi translates as Germans. Its façade was famously frescoed by Giorgione and Titian in 1508, although they quickly suffered from exposure to the humid Venetian climate; the surviving fragments are now housed in the Ca’ d’Oro.
Fabbriche Vecchie and Campo di San Rialto
Built in 1520-22, the Fabbriche Vecchie were the site of the city’s main markets, where everything from spices to jewellery were bought or sold. Under the arcades, bankers would set up tables for transactions, with shops behind and two floors above for offices and storerooms.
The painting’s provenance and exhibition history
The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi has been offered for sale only once before. It was acquired in 1768 by an English MP, Chaloner Arcedeckne (c. 1743-1804), during his Grand Tour, and remained in the family until 1891. It was then sold privately via Christie’s, along with its pendant, for £3,850, to the great collector Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, later 1st Lord, and 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927), in whose family it has since remained. The two paintings were separated in 2011 when the pendant (now in a private collection) was sold at auction for £26,697,250 ($42,708,768), a record price for any Venetian view painting.
The painting also has a rich exhibition history and featured most recently at the Canaletto and his Rivals exhibition at the National Gallery, London, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.