Lot Content

COVID-19 Important notice Read More
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Venice 1727-1804)
PROPERTY OF A TRUST Giovanni Domenico TiepoloThree drawings from the Punchinello series (lots 56-58)Building on the formidable legacy of his father Giovanni Battista, one of the great painters of the 18th Century, Domenico Tiepolo developed a successful career of his own, excelling at painting as well as at etching and drawing. As the prime assistant to his father, he worked on large decorative schemes, including those in Würzburg and Spain, and reproduced his father’s works in prints. While doing so he also developed his own voice, which grew only stronger after Giovanni Battista died in 1770. To the grand repertoire of the latter’s religious, mythological and allegorical compositions, Domenico added lighter, wittier, more fanciful notes, some religious or mythological in inspiration, but others taken from everyday life and popular culture. Many of these themes, which are now associated with the Tiepolo name as much as those treated by the father, were explored by Domenico in pen and wash rather than in oil, and often in series, which seem almost intended to prove the draughtsman’s inexhaustible powers of invention.It is arguably in three ambitious series of similar size produced near the end of his life that Domenico’s personality shines through most brightly: the ‘New Testament’ series, which he started working on around 1785 and which numbers over three hundred sheets; the ‘Scenes from Contemporary Life’, some of which are dated 1791, based on Domenico’s observation of everyday life in Venice and the terraferma; and what can be called his swansong, the 104 drawings preceded by a title page that make up a series titled ‘Divertimento per li regazzi’ (Entertainment for children), also known as the Punchinello series. Full of quotations from works by himself, his father and earlier artists, the three series were clearly made as independent works of art, and indeed many of the sheets are signed. They treat their subjects in appropriately distinct ways, but are fully coherent in their style, richly elaborated in different shades of brown wash barely contained by the fluid penwork, over an often quite summary chalk underdrawing, and displaying brilliant use of the white paper to create highlights. Nearly all illustrate a predilection for compositions inhabited by figures placed close to the foreground, and they demonstrate – even in many of the Biblical scenes – the artist’s quick wit, his gift as a storyteller, and his taste for the anecdotal. They are dazzling displays of a kaleidoscopic emotional range and an almost unparalleled stylistic and narrative exuberance.In contrast to the biblical source of the ‘New Testament’ series, the Punchinello series is not inspired by any known literary text, but rather from the main characters of the improvised popular theatre of Neapolitan origin, the commedia dell’arte. Domenico chose a more good-natured interpretation of the originally malicious and boorish Pulcinella, to use his common Italian name, one of the main characters in the commedia. ‘For all we know,’ wrote James Byam Shaw, ‘Domenico may have invented a tale himself as he proceeded, after the ingenious fashion of the modern strip-cartoonist’ (The Drawings of Domenico Tiepolo, London, 1962, p. 54). While on occasion Giovanni Battista Tiepolo had already depicted Punchinello in drawings from the 1730s, the character appealed even more strongly to Domenico, who included him in paintings such as the Metropolitan Museum’s Country dance as early as ca. 1755 (see fig. 1). It was several decades later, though, in the 1790s, that Domenico chose Punchinello to represent his joyful vision of life more fully. In the frescoes (now at the Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice) decorating his villa at Zianigo on the mainland, Domenico painted Punchinello’s boisterous activities on a large scale. And during these final years of the artist’s career, when the 18th Century came to a close and the Venetian Republic was conquered by Napoleon’s troops, Domenico also turned to Punchinello and his extended family for his last and perhaps greatest of his series of drawings. ‘It is the culture of that vanished world that Domenico, with nostalgia and humor, mythologized and immortalized in the Divertimento’ (L. Wolk Simon, Domenico Tiepolo. Drawings, Prints, and Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 67).Several publications from the last decades, especially Adelheid Gealt’s Domenico Tiepolo. The Punchinello Drawings (New York, 1986), which reproduces all sheets, have led to a better understanding of the story and significance of the series. But while Gealt believes the order is basically loose, allowing for several storylines, George Knox has argued that the numbers at upper left outside the framing lines on the sheets, almost certainly in the hand of Domenico himself but unfortunately not fully documented, must indicate the proper way of reading the life of Punchinello (‘Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello Drawings: Satire, or Labor of Love?’, in Satire in the 18th Century, New York and London, 1983, pp. 125-131, 144-145). The series starts with the ancestry and childhood of Punchinello (fig. 2, no. 1 of the series). In the first of the drawings offered here, we can see Punchinello learning to walk (lot 56). Later, in his youth or adolescence, he is briefly arrested and imprisoned, after which the story recounts his wandering years. His busy life as a mature man comprises of ‘various trades and occupations’, including a stint at a barber’s shop (lot 57). The mood of the scenes is not invariably festive or amusing: on occasion Domenico strikes a darker tone, as in the burial scene also offered here (lot 58). At the conclusion of the series we even witness Punchinello’s own end, as well as his own burial (fig. 3, the penultimate scene).Nicknamed the ‘last masterpiece of Venetian art’ by Pierre Rosenberg (in the French edition of Gealt’s book, p. 9), the ‘Divertimento per li regazzi’ was rediscovered as an unbound series at a Sotheby’s sale in London on 6-7 July 1920, lot 41, described as ‘One Hundred and two Carnival Scenes, with many figures’. (Apart from these 102 sheets, the lot also included the title page. Two drawings were separated from the group at an earlier stage, one of them now lost, the other at the Morgan Library and Museum). Bought by the London firm of Colnaghi, the drawings were subsequently acquired by a British dealer based in Paris, Richard Owen, who exhibited the series in full in 1921 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in that city. Soon afterwards began their slow and steady dispersal, with many ending up in public collections in the United States, primarily in the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the Cleveland Museum of Art, each of which have nine.Like the group of six drawings sold on 3 December 2019 in these Rooms, the three drawings offered here were once part of a larger group of fourteen, acquired in 1936 and 1937 by Brinsley Ford (1908-1999) (Gealt, op. cit., nos. 2, 6, 8, 16, 17, 20, 22, 27, 43, 48, 49, 51, 58, 70, ill.; see B. Ford, ‘The Ford Collection’, Walpole Society, LX, II, 1998, p. 99). Describing himself as ‘merely an aesthete’, Ford – as a Trustee of the National Gallery (1954-1961), a contributor and director (1952-1980) of the Burlington Magazine, and a long-standing member and later the Chairman (1974-1980) of the Art Fund – contributed greatly to these and many other endeavours in the British art world in the second half of the previous century (see F. Russell in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version, consulted 10 June 2020). He was knighted in 1984. Ford inherited part of his family’s distinguished art collection, particularly rich in works of the 18th Century Welsh landscapist Richard Wilson, but also made numerous major acquisitions himself, including the fourteen drawings by Domenico Tiepolo.Although only a sample of the rich biography which Domenico painted of his hero, the three drawings offered here give an idea of the fullness of Punchinello’s life, with an emphasis on the brighter days. ‘The unobtrusive satire, the topical anecdote, and the fantastic liveliness of the whole work make a place for Domenico all of his own, out of the shadow of his great father, in the history of comic drawing’ (J. Byam Shaw, ‘Some Venetian Draughtsmen of the Eighteenth Century’, Old Master Drawings, VII, no. 28, March 1933, p. 58). But, as Gealt remarked, ‘the Divertimento amuses, but it also enlightens; as such, it remains an incomparable legacy. Nearing his own death, Domenico taught us about life, through humor, understanding, compassion and hope’ (op. cit., p. 21). Punchinello may be at moments the object of our ridicule, but Domenico also made his pleasures and fears, his adventures and misfortunes, relatable and recognizable. Like Falstaff, he provides us with both a laughing stock and a mirror, and like that hero at the end of Verdi’s opera (also the final word of an aged and wizened artist), Domenico seems to tell us that ‘tutto nel mondo è burla’ – ‘everything in the world’s a jest’.Fig. 1. Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, A dance in the country, oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.Fig. 2. Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, The birth of Punchinello's father. Private collection, sold at Christie's, London, 3 December 2019, lot 42.Fig. 3. Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, The burial of Punchinello. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Venice 1727-1804)

Punchinello learning to walk

Details
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Venice 1727-1804) Punchinello learning to walk signed ‘Domo. Tiepolo f’ (lower right) and numbered (partially cut), probably by the artist, ‘11’ (in the border, upper left) black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, watermark half moon 13 5/8 x 18 3/8 in. (34.5 x 46.6 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 1920, part of lot 41 (where bought by Colnaghi for £610).
with Colnaghi, London, by whom sold, January 1921, to the following
with Richard Owen, Paris, by whom broken up and sold individually through Matthiesen, 24 March 1937, for £70 to
Brinsley, later Sir Brinsley, Ford (1908-1999).
Literature
J. Byam Shaw, The Drawings of Domenico Tiepolo, London, 1962, no. 85, pl. 85.
M.E. Vetrocq, Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello Drawings, exhib. cat., Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum and Stanford University Art Museum, 1979-1980, no. S5, ill., p. 139.
A.M. Gealt, Domenico Tiepolo. The Punchinello Drawings, New York, 1986, no. 16, ill. [French edition titled Gian Domenico Tiepolo. Dessins de Polichinelle, Arcueil, 1986].
A.M. Gealt and G. Knox, Giandomenico Tiepolo. Maestria e gioco. Disegni dal mondo, exhib. cat., Udine, Castello di Udine, and Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum, 1996-1997, p. 244, no. 11 [English edition titled Domenico Tiepolo, Master Draftsman].
B. Ford, ‘The Ford Collection’, Walpole Society, LX, II, 1998, pp. 99-101, no. RBF121 (catalogued by F. Russell).
S. Bostock, The Pictorial Wit of Domenico Tiepolo, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Warwick, 2009, I, no. 11, ill.
R. Tumanow, ‘Groteskes Korpus. Theatrale, narrative und referenzielle Aspekte des Divertimento per li Regazzi von Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’, Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, LXXX, 2019, p. 221, fig. 13.
Exhibited
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Dessins de G.D. Tiepolo, 1921 (without catalogue).
London, Matthiesen Gallery, Venetian Paintings and Drawings Held in Aid of Lord Baldwin’s Fund for Refugees, 1939, no. 139.
Exeter, Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exhibition of Works of Art from the Ford Collection, 1946, no. 143 (catalogue by B. Ford).
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, and Birmingham, Museum and Art Gallery, Eighteenth Century Venice, 1951, no. 138b (note by F.J.B. Watson).
Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Tiepolo. Ironia e comico, 2004, no. 128, ill. (note by A. M. Gealt).
Venice, Palazzo Ducale, and Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Canaletto & Venezia, 2018-2019, no. VII.08, ill., p. 353 [French edition titled Éblouissante Venise. Venise, les arts et l’Europe au XVIIIe siècle].

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Old Masters

Lot Essay

In one of the most delightful of the childhood scenes which open the series, the young Punchinello learns to walk aided by a baby walker, surrounded by his family in an elegant interior. As often in Domenico’s compositions, the figures are arranged as if on a shallow stage, moving theatrically in parallel to the picture plane. The scene is illuminated by a light source high up which casts a sharp, diagonal shadow across the wall, a similar effect to that seen in the following lot.

More From Classic Art Evening Sale: Antiquity to 20th Century

View All