A student of the Accademia di Pittura in Venice, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison was imbued with the 18th century Venetian tradition, leading one scholar to describe his oeuvre as 'a last flowering of the Venetian Settecento' (G. Knox in J. Byam Shaw and G. Knox, The Robert Lehman Collection: Italian 18th Century drawings, New York, 1987, p. 18). The early part of Bison's career was spent working as a decorative painter, producing designs for La Fenice, as well as decorating the walls and ceilings of villas and palazzos in the Veneto. Around 1800 he settle in Trieste, where he decorated the Palazzo Carciotti (c. 1805) and the Palazzo della Vecchia Borsa (c. 1808). In 1831 Bison moved to Milan, where he remained, active mainly as a scenographer making stage designs for the Teatro alla Scala among other theatres. A prolific and fluent artist, he also painted many smaller-scale works, mainly intended for sale to collectors.
The attribution of the present picture to Bison was first suggested by Dr. Dario Succi, to whom we are grateful. We are also grateful to Professor Fabrizio Magani for confirming the attribution. This oil on paper has all the immediacy of a sketch and exhibits a nervous energy that is so characteristic of Bison. The subject however appears to be rare for the artist. The painting depicts three gowned Venetian revellers wearing the typical Venetian mask known as the bauta, pausing to admire drawings, sculptures and paintings in an interior filled with objets d'art scattered across every surface. We are also grateful to Professor George Knox for noting a related drawing by Bison of similarly-masked figures (see Sotheby's, New York, 10 January 195, lot 1; fig. 1).