This characteristically atmospheric view shows the island church of San Cristoforo, near Murano, which was between the island of San Michele, and what is now the Fondamenta Nuova. From 1454 the island was known as San Cristoforo della Pace, as it was granted in that year to Fra Simone da Camerino who negotiated a peace treaty between Venice and Milan. The church was evidently constructed almost immediately, a tall, characteristically Venetian structure with a central door -- through which a blue curtain is billowing -- crowned by an ogival arch, with subsidiary side chapels, small enough not to block the three tall lancet windows of the south wall, and an apse: to the left are subsidiary buildings, with a modest belfry: on the right in the distance is the northern side of Venice. Like so many of the island churches of the lagoon, S. Cristoforo was secularised after the French occupation. It was demolished in 1810 and in 1837 the island was joined with its neighbour, San Michele, when this was enlarged to become the cemetry of the city.
Guardi first painted San Cristoforo relatively early in his career as a viewpainter in two variant canvasses, formerly respectively in private collections in Milan and Geneva (Morassi, 1973, nos. 645 and 650): his viewpoint was on the Fondamenta Nuova, the church being seen from the south east, with San Michele and Murano behind and, in the distance, the Alps. A related picture, corresponding with the left half of these, and thus showing the churches of S. Cristoforo and S. Michele and the part of Murano behind the latter, was in the possession of A. Moss, New York (Morassi, 1973, no. 646). Characteristically, the fall of the sunlight differs in the three pictures.
The San Cristoforo has a distinguished place among Guardi's later lagoon views. For the present canvas, which Morassi dates about 1780, his point de départ was evidently a somewhat earlier drawing (fig. 1) at Dijon (Morassi, 1973, no. 409, fig. 413), in which the island is seen from the same angle and in the same morning light. Morassi fairly writes of the canvas: 'visione ormai al limite del fantasioso, più che documentario, tutto guizzi di luci iridate in un atmosfera d'intenso colore feerico' (1973, I, p. 225). The reflections of the church and vessels are indeed characteristic of Guardi at his most magical.
Two reduced variants of the picture, one formerly with the Galleria Schubert, Milan, the other in the collection of F. Altmann, New York, are recorded by Morassi (1973, nos. 649 and 649); another unpublished autograph reduction is in a Scottish private collection. Morassi rejects three further derivations of the present composition: one at Budapest which he attributes to Giacomo Guardi and two which he regarded as imitations, one from the A. Loewy collection, Los Angeles, the other from that of Baron H. de Rothschild, Paris (1973, under no. 647).
The 1802 sale was, according to Burton B. Frederickson (The Index of Paintings sold in the British Isles during the Nineteenth Century, I, 1801-1805, Santa Barbara and Oxford, 1988, p. 19), the only auction specifically of pictures held at Bath before the 1820s. Evill, the auctioneer, was based in Milsom Street. Although less fashionable than it had been, Bath remained a major resort, with shops second in importance only to those in London. Many families made extended visits to take the waters, but unless the sale was a speculative venture the collection -- of 159 lots -- was presumably owned by a local resident: if an inscription on the only extant copy of the catalogue, at Agnews, 'bought of Podd executors', refers to the dealer William Gilbert Podd, its is conceivable that the sale (the date of which is given as Thursday 22 April) actually took place in 1813 rather than 1802.