This charming capriccio, set within the entrance to a palace, is known in two further autograph versions, both in private collections, one in Paris, the other in New York (see A. Morassi, Guardi: Antonio and Francesco Guardi, Venice, 1984, I, pp. 221, 275, nos. 795, 796, II, figs. 691, 692). The two paintings published by Antonio Morassi vary slightly from the present composition: the Paris composition omits the dog in the foreground, substituting it instead for two additional figures in the courtyard and on the upper level while the New York painting differs slightly in the sculptural elements of the architecture.
Morassi describes the New York painting as 'squisita sia per l'originalità dell'invenzione sia per la brillante fattura' ('exquisite both for the originality of the invention and for the brilliant execution', op. cit., no. 795). The Paris capriccio is accompanied by a pendant depicting figures strolling around a circular pavillion with Corinthian columns (op. cit., no. 755, fig. 695) begging the question as to whether the present painting might at one point have formed one of a pair.
The present lot comes from the distinguished collection of Nina R. and Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. Mr. Houghton was an influential patron of the arts as well as a renowned collector in his own right. His early focus on the collection of manuscripts and first edition books by renowned English authors later expanded to include distinguished literary objects such as two Gutenberg Bibles and the incomparable Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp (folios of which were offered by Christie's in 1976 and 1988). He formed an outstanding collection of miniature books, English Silver, and acquired over time a small but exquisite group of paintings, including the Guardi offered here, as well as works by Thomas Sully, Jean Honore Fragonard, and Hendrik Reekers among others.
Today, Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and numerous other institutions are the beneficiaries of generous donations made by Mr. Houghton from the various collections he formed during his lifetime. Notably, he endowed the Houghton Library at Harvard as a repository for the university's collections of rare books and manuscripts. Mr. Houghton was a board member of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Museum, vice chairman of a committee to create Lincoln Center, vice president of the Pierpont Morgan Library, trustee and chairman of the Cooper Union, trustee and chairman of the Parsons School of Design, and co-founder of the Corning Museum of Glass.
Arthur Houghton married Nina Rodale in 1972, and together they lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with their children. Nina Rodale Houghton was a life-long supporter of educational institutions and causes, serving as Trustee of the Wye Institute, Trustee of Goucher College, a board member of the Columbus Center in Baltimore, and an advisory group member to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. She was a member of the Board of Visitors to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a member of the Board of Visitors of University of Maryland College Park, and a board member of the Aspen Institute. Before marrying Mr. Houghton, she worked with the Sea Mammal Motivational Institute (SEAMAMM) studying and training seals and sea lions aboard a research vessel with her family for four years, which was covered in depth in a November 1968 National Geographic article.