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The interior of the Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, with the 1782 ball in honor of the 'Conti del Nord'

The interior of the Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, with the 1782 ball in honor of the 'Conti del Nord'
oil on canvas
26 1/2 x 35 7/8 in. (67 x 91.5 cm.)
Mr. Simonson (according to an inscription on the stretcher noted in the 1994 sale catalogue).
Stephen Bourgeois, Paris, by 1912.
Arnold van Buuren, 't Loover, Naarden; his sale, Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 26-27 May 1925, lot 49.
with Bourgeois Galleries, Paris and New York, by 1925.
Marczell von Nemes, Munich, by 1931; (†) his sale, Frederik Muller, Munich, 16-19 June 1931, lot 43, where acquired by,
Conte Carlo Parravicini, Paris, and where acquired in 1938 by,
Private collector, Switzerland, and by whom sold,
[The Property of a Gentleman]; Christie's, London, 9 December 1994, lot 62,
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
G. A. Simonson, 'A Newly-Discovered Guardi', The Burlington Magazine, XIX, 1911, pp. 98-100, illustrated.
G. Fiocco, Francesco Guardi, Florence, 1923, pp. 35 and 72, no. 72, pl. LXI.
E. Modigliani, 'Settecento veneziano nelle raccolte private milanesi', Settecento veneziano: strenna dell'Illustrazione italiana 1924-1925, II, Milan, 1925, pp. 356 and 358.
M. Goering, 'Venezianische Feste und Masken. Zur Ausstellung von 1937 im Cà Rezzonico in Venedig', Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, VII, 1938, pp. 47-48, fig. 6.M. Goering, Francesco Guardi, Vienna, 1944, pp. 59-60 and 85, pl. 135.
V. Moschini, Francesco Guardi, Milan, 1956, p. 38, pl. 159.
B. Tamassia-Mazzarotto, Le feste veneziane: i giochi popolari, le cerimonie religiose e di govero, Florence, 1961, pp. 319-321.
A. Morassi, Guardi: Antonio e Francesco Guardi, I, Venice, 1973, pp. 182, 357, no. 255; II, fig. 285.
L. Rossi Bortolatto, L'opera completa di Francesco Guardi, Milan, 1974, p. 131, no. 686, illustrated.
M. Azzi Visentini, 'Un Guardi ritrovato', Arte Veneta, XXXIX, 1985, pp. 178-179, figs. 1-2.
‌G.M. Pilo, "Ritovamenti. Francesco Guardi", FMR, October,1986, pp. 55-58.
S. Biandene, 'Le feste per i Conti del Nord: "ironico e malinconico" crepuscolo del Rococo', Quaderni di Venezia Arti, I, 1992, pp. 100-101, 103.
B.L. Brown. 'Guardi exhibitions. Venice', The Burlington Magazine, CLIII, 1993, pp. 850-851, fig. 83.
D. Succi, Francesco Guardi, Itinerario dell'avventura artistica, Milan, 2003, p. 115.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of Venetian Paintings of the 18th Century, 1911, no. 19.
Venice, Museo Cà Rezzonico, Le Feste e le Maschere Veneziane, 6 May-31 October 1937, no. 6.
Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Francesco Guardi - Vedute Caprici Feste, 28 August-21 November 1993, no. 68.
Venice, Museo Correr, Francesco Guardi, 28 September 2012-17 February 2013, no. 80.

Brought to you by

Joshua Glazer
Joshua Glazer Specialist, Head of Private Sales

Lot Essay

The last of the great eighteenth-century painters of Venetian vedute, Guardi is celebrated for his cool, pale palette, his inimitable rendering of bright blue skies and sparkling sunshine, and the expressive, shimmering atmospheric effects he brought to his many views of the canals, architecture and public festivals of his native city. The Ball at the Teatro San Benedetto is a rare nocturnal scene, remarkable for its almost magical recreation of one of the grandest theatrical events of the final years of the Serenissima, a scene crowded with innumerable opulently dressed spectators illuminated only by the flickering candlelight of great chandeliers.
‌The painting depicts a celebrated ball given on the night of 22 January 1782 in honor of the visit to Venice of the Russian Grand Duke Paul Petrovich (1754-1801), son of Emperor Peter III and Catherine the Great, and his second wife, the Grand Duchess Marie Feodorovna (1759-1828; born Sophia Dorothea of Wurttemberg). The couple, later Emperor and Empress of Russia, travelled to Italy incognito under the guise of the ‘Conti del Nord’, the final stage in a fourteen-month-long European tour.
‌The ball took place in the theater of San Benedetto and a lavish banquet was hosted on its stage prior to the dance. The small, elegant theater was inaugurated in 1755. Originally circular in design, it was rebuilt in a traditional horseshoe shape following a fire in 1773. Owned by a consortium of patrician families who were box holders in the theater, San Benedetto was preeminent in the operatic life of Venice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and remained the principal venue for opera seria until the opening of La Fenice in 1792. (Turned into a cinema in 1937 with a new façade by Carlo Scarpa, the theater closed in 2007).
‌Numerous eyewitness accounts of the evening are recorded in contemporary diaries and memoirs. The Venetian chronicler Berlan observed: 'The golden rooms, the lights, the mirrors, eighty-four ladies seated at a circular table, and behind them a row of cavaliers standing, as soon as the curtain rose, made the stage look like one of the enchanted palaces of the Thousand and One Nights, and called forth, on the part of the princely spectators, applause and enthusiastic clapping of hands.' Guardi’s picture evokes the scene with both verve and accuracy, meticulously recreating the grandeur of the setting and the opulence of its throngs of participants, as well as the fizzy excitement of the occasion. Painting on a ground of mahogany-brown and chocolate, with deep jet-black shadows, Guardi gives life and lively character to each of the hundreds of guests with lightning-bolt strikes of light and color. Lavishly attired guests, in brilliantly colored coats, embroidered gowns and extravagantly plumed hats, make their way up a grand staircase to the proscenium-arched stage, where dozens of ladies are seated around a vast banqueting table brightened with candelabra, gentlemen standing behind them, gathered beneath a brightly lit cupola with painted and gilded ceiling decorations. In the orchestra pit beneath the stage, musicians in red coats tune their instruments, while guests crane their necks from the filigreed loges and boxes to observe the gathering. 'In the shimmering candlelight Guardi has orchestrated the rich harmonies of silver-blue and bronze,' as Beverly Brown noted (loc. cit.). 'White highlights flicker across the densely textured canvas, their loose and erratic line defining pieces of drapery with an ornamental flourish.'
The guests of honor are not to be found in the painting, or are lost amid the almost limitless swarm of the Venetian beau monde, but the future Emperor and Empress were said to have walked twice around the theater before occupying the box reserved for them to watch the procession to the dining table on stage. They subsequently left their box and joined the company at table, which was removed before the ball commenced. So pleased were the Russian visitors with the evening that they delayed their departure from Venice for a day in order to witness the procession of the bulls in Piazza San Marco the following afternoon.
‌Several months after the visit of the ‘Conti del Nord’, Guardi received a documented commission from the Venetian State for four paintings memorializing the visit of Pope Pius VI to his native city. It is almost certain that the present painting was part of an earlier, undocumented state commission, presumably Guardi’s first such recognition, as at least one other picture by the artist survives recording another episode from the visit of the Russian Grand Duke and Grand Duchess to the city. Today in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, it depicts previous festivities held in the royal couple’s honor on 20 July 1782, when a concert performance by eighty orphaned girls took place at the Sala dei Filarmonici (fig. 1, now the Sala degli Orfei, Palazzo Pesaro). Of identical size and equal charm to the Getty painting, the Munich canvas commemorates that event with a comparable number of figures, equivalent grandeur and matching joy and gaiety. Drawings by Guardi for other events in the Russian visit survive and can be presumed to have been preparatory to now lost paintings.

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