‘Venice! Is there a name in the human language that has made people dream more than that? […] It immediately stirs in one’s spirit a surge of wonderful memories and a world of enchanting dreams.’
G. de Maupassant
This magnificent picture by Francesco Guardi is one of the celebrated pair of views of the Grand Canal at the Rialto painted in the mid-1760s which were arguably the most accomplished works of the artist’s early maturity as a view painter. The two are ambitious in scale and, for all the familiarity of their subject, startlingly innovative both in design and pictorial mood, standing thus among the signal masterpieces of eighteenth-century European art. That Guardi signed this picture suggests the importance he attached to it, and the way in which he anchored the composition on the pale rendered flank of the wholly insignificant building on the left is as visually arresting as this was original. Remarkably the picture has only been sold once – by private treaty though Christie’s in 1891 – since it was acquired in Italy for the Arcedeckne family. This helps to explain why it is exceptionally well preserved.
Francesco Guardi was the second of the three sons of a minor painter, Domenico Guardi (1678-1716), whose family came from the Val di Sole and had been raised to the imperial nobility in 1643. He worked in association with his elder brother, Giovanni Antonio (1699-1760), principally on religious and decorative projects, and only turned to painting views in the late 1750s by when he was in his mid-forties. Although much admired both in England and France by the mid-nineteenth century, Guardi in his lifetime was much less fashionable than his predecessor Canaletto had been, although Pietro Edwards, the restorer and public servant who had been responsible for the selection of pictures for the Accademia at Venice, would in 1804 tell the sculptor Canova that his ‘cose’ (things) were ‘spiritosissime’ (very spirited), a view from which few would dissent today. How spirited a painter Guardi could be is evident in the flickering delicacy of touch and suffusing mastery of colour in both this picture and its pendant.
The Rialto was the commercial heart of Venice in the way that the Basilica di San Marco and the Doge’s Palace with its appendages were central to the religious and political life of the Venetian Republic, La Serenisima. Guardi’s two pictures thus celebrate the role of Venice as a major entrepôt. His viewpoint is from the predecessor of the Palazzo Sernagiotto, as James Byam Shaw noted of the related picture in New York (see infra) in 1951. On the left is the Palazzo Civran which was remodelled in the seventeenth century. Beyond this is part of the façade of the predecessor of the later Palazzo Ruzzini and, to the left of the Rialto Bridge, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the warehouse of the German merchants, long famous for its external murals by Giorgione and Titian, crowned by tall chimneys that have since been removed: above this can be seen the tip of the campanile of the church of San Bartolomeo al Rialto, reconstructed in 1754. The supremely elegant Rialto Bridge itself was built in 1588-91 to the design of Antonio da Ponte. To the right of this is the renaissance Palazzo dei Camerlenghi designed by Guglielmo dei Grigi, and beyond this, after a space through which can be seen the Campo of the church of San Giacomo di Rialto, the arcaded Fabbriche Vecchie by a little-known architect, Antonio Abbondi; on the extreme right is the east end of Sansovino’s Fabbriche Nuove, begun in 1552, and, above this, the campanile of the church of San Cassiano. Gondolas pass on the canal and more are drawn up on the fondamenta below the Fabbriche Vecchie: the sunlight catches men walking on the fondamenta and stall keepers are seen between the arches of the Fabbriche Vecchie, four of which are protected by shutters. Sunlight falls from the west, evidently filtered between and through clouds of varying density, like those shown in the picture.
THE VIEW OF THE RIALTO: PRECURSORS
For this picture, as for the pendant Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon (fig. 1; Sotheby’s, 6 July 2011, lot 73, now in a private collection, measuring 120 x 203.7 cm.), Guardi was no doubt aware of works by his great predecessor, Canaletto, and also of pictures or an etching by Michele Marieschi (fig. 2). Canaletto’s earliest treatment of the subject, of 1725, was part of the miraculous quartet painted for the Lucchese merchant, Stefano Conti (W.G. Constable, Canaletto, Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768, Oxford, 1962 and subsequent editions, no. 234, now in the Museo Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin). Later variations include that on copper at Goodwood (1727-8; fig. 3), the picture in the Royal Collection, and that from the Fitzwilliam Collection (Constable, nos. 235, 236 and 237). The Fabbriche Vecchie are shown from a viewpoint further to the right, so that the roofline slopes upwards in this direction, rather than downwards as in the picture under discussion. The existence of other pictures by Canaletto and numerous early copies of that in the Royal Collection attest to the level of demand for the subject. Marieschi painted a series of closely related pictures from a viewpoint closer to the Rialto than that adopted by Guardi (R. Toledano, Michele Marieschi, Catalogo ragionato, Milan, 1995, nos. V. 10.a-d), and also made a related etching (op. cit., no. V.10.e). In these the roofline of the Fabbriche Vecchie runs downwards to the right – but the Fabbriche Nuove are not shown: the flight of steps down to the water on the left of his composition, which do not appear in, for example, Canaletto’s view from a different angle from the Marlborough series (New York, Wrightsman Collection, Constable, no. 240), are an invention of the artist’s, as presumably is the wall lined at the top with flowerpots. Guardi selected a higher and specific viewpoint, the lateral window on the first floor of the precursor of the later Palazzo Sernagiotto, opposite the off-white rendered lateral façade of the first, and upper, storey of the low building that abuts on the Palazzo Civran.
This modest building serves to define the painter’s line of vision and establishes the level at which he expected the picture to be hung: the top of the left hand shutter of the unglazed opening is seen from below while the cornice of the low building with the chimney, also rendered white, immediately to the north of this – and thus closer to the viewer – is seen from above. Guardi clearly intended that the viewer’s eye would be drawn by the pale render of the walls of both buildings. He discretely placed his name – in capitals as if it were a tradesman’s sign rather than the more calligraphic signature in upper and lower case that is found on many of his earlier views – on the lowest of the dark timbers in the shadowed area at the very corner of the composition.
The pendant (fig. 1), which is not signed, was composed in the reverse direction. The viewpoint is on the Fondamenta del Carbon in front of the Palazzo Bembo, and thus rather lower than that of this picture: the onlooker is drawn into the composition in the wake of the figures seen from behind who are about to cross the Ponte del Ferro; cloud gathers to the east, but the sky is clearer to the west. Low late afternoon sun illuminates both views. Guardi was evidently aware of Canaletto’s intermittent practice of supplying pendants with intersecting or complementary viewpoints. In this picture, the Palazzo Dolfin Manin with part of Palazzo Bembo, and thus the viewpoint of the pendant on the Fondamenta del Carbon, can be seen through the arch of the bridge and this is, no doubt deliberately, concealed from view by the sails of the moored vessel. Conversely, in the companion picture the lower part of the Palazzo Ruzzini and a section of that of Palazzo Civran are visible below the arch.
The view of the Rialto from the north was no doubt popular not only for its compositional possibilities, but because the Ca’ da Mosto, where so many distinguished visitors to Venice stayed at the time, was further on, on the same side of the canal. Moreover, of course, the tourist who arrived in the normal way from Padua on the Brenta Canal or by one of the main roads to Marghera, would have seen the Rialto first from this direction.
As has now been conclusively established by Succi (op. cit.) and the compiler (Russell, op. cit., pp. 4-11), Guardi only turned to view painting in the late 1750s. A significant proportion of his early views were acquired by three young Englishmen on the Grand Tour in 1758-9; Sir Brook Bridges, 3rd Bt.; John, Viscount Brudenell, subsequently Marquess of Monthermer; and Richard Milles. Brudenell obtained, with five other canvasses, Guardi’s first major picture of the subject, now in the possession of his sister’s descendant, the Duke of Buccleuch (Morassi, no. 549). These were taken from a viewpoint somewhat further to the west. Monthermer also acquired a view of the Rialto with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi taken from a position to the east of that used for the Iveagh picture. The choice of viewpoint in the Iveagh canvas shows that Guardi sought to show the Rialto with both the Fabbriche Vecchie and the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in such a way that the viewer has a sense of the prospect which lies beyond the broad arch of the bridge, and this to link the picture with its pendant.
GUARDI’S RELATED DRAWINGS AND PICTURES
Autograph drawings at Bayonne and Berlin (figs. 4 and 5 respectively; Bayonne, Musée Bonnat, and Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, Morassi, Disegni, nos. 371 and 376) agree with the picture not only in topographical detail but also in the positions of most of the boats, including that with the gondolier which is partly cut by the lower edge of the composition, and of many of the figures on the fondamenta. By analogy with other drawings of the period it is clear that the two, evidently drawn on site, were cut from a single panoramic sheet, giving an overall measurement of at least 264 x 760 mm. (the Louvre study for the Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon mentioned below measures 522 x 761 mm.). Moreover, the Berlin drawing shows eight bays only of the Fabbriche Vecchie. This might imply that the drawing was used first for the smaller (53.3 x 85.6 cm.) canvas in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 6; Morassi, no. 554), in which nine bays of this are shown, as against fourteen in the Iveagh picture. Thus it is possible that the smaller work antedated the latter. In the same way the drawing in the Louvre (Morassi, Disegni, no. 364) for the Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon corresponds in compositional field on the left not with the ex-Iveagh picture but with the smaller variant of this in the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon (fig. 7; Morassi, no. 525), which is almost identical in size with the New York picture and surely a hypothetical pendant to that. It would be logical to assume that the Iveagh picture, in which an additional building is introduced to the left, followed that at Lisbon. But the drawing anticipates a closer grouping of the figures of the Iveagh picture rather than the looser arrangement of the Gulbenkian canvas. The complex relationship of the Iveagh pictures, the smaller variants and the drawings demonstrates that Guardi took particularly care in developing the design of works that were to be on an unprecedented scale among his vedute. As Byam Shaw wrote in 1954, the Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi is of the ‘highest quality, still sombre in tone, but subtle and delicate in colour – bluishgrey, like oxidized silver, in the bridge and the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, and warm brown in the Fabbriche Vecchie’.
Guardi only painted half a dozen largescale views, but, like earlier Venetian painters from the Renaissance onwards, he knew how important it was, when an addition to a canvas was necessary as a picture was to exceed the width of the loom on which this was made, to ensure that any join was effectively disguised. In this picture the horizontal join is some 25 centimetres from the bottom of the composition, running invisibly except when examined at very close quarters through the architecture and along the lower line of the shutters on the Fabbriche Vecchie.
Senator Pietro Gradenigo, that assiduous recorder of the Venetian artistic world, stated that Guardi made use of a camera obscura. So, of course, had Canaletto in his time. Mitchell Merling, in his entry for the picture in the 1994 exhibition catalogue (p. 458) suggests that the use of this would account for the presence of ‘‘circles of confusion’ in [Guardi’s] paintings of the 1760s, such as are visible here, and may also have been responsible for the distortion in perspective’. The perspective in the two pictures is indeed manipulated. Canaletto was a master of such manipulation for compositional ends. Guardi’s flexibility of topographical approach is sometimes less noticeable than his predecessor’s, if only because the spectator is dazed by his atmospheric command. This is brilliantly exemplified in both the pictures, not least in that under discussion in which the render of the building in the lower left corner, intruding almost upon our space and startling in its realism, seems quite literally to stand between the viewer and the teeming life of the Grand Canal below.
THE DATING OF THE PICTURE
When the Iveagh pictures first came to scholarly notice, a date of 1750-60 was proposed. The recognition that the rebuilt campanile of S. Bartolomeo was shown subsequently established a terminus post quem of 1754, as it is difficult to argue that the artist would have allowed for the completion of so relatively unimportant a structure or had access to the architectural project for this. Both canvases are in fact clearly later than the group of pictures which, as is stated above, we now know were sold in 1758-9. The Iveagh views evidently must also have followed a group of pictures of the same size as, but more advanced in style than, the largest of the pictures acquired in 1758-9, for which a date in the early 1760s is favoured by the compiler (Morassi, nos. 281, 322, 422 and 464; Russell, op. cit., p. 7). Merling, in the 1994 exhibition catalogue, proposed a date of circa 1760-3 for the two Iveagh pictures and observed that it was ‘generally accepted that, because of its ambitious size and evident accomplishment’ the Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi was the picture exhibited in the Piazza S. Marco in 1764, as Gradenigo recorded on 25 April:
Francesco Guardi, Pittore della contrada de’ S:ti Apostoli su le Fondamente Nove, buon Scolaro del rinomato […] Canaletto, essendo molto riuscito per via della Camera Optica, di pingere sopra due non picciole Tele, ordinate dà un Forestiere Inglese, le vedute della Piazza di S. Marco verso la Chiesa, e l’Orologio, e del Ponte di Rialto e sinistre Fabbriche verso Canareggio, oggi le rese esposte sui laterali delle Procuratie Nove, mediante che si procacciò con l’universale applauso.
(ed. L. Livan, ‘Notizie d’Arte tratte dai notatori e dagli annali del N.H. Pietro Gradenigo’, Reale deputazione di Storia Patria per le Venezie, Miscellanea di Studi e Memorie, Venice, 1942, p.106)
Gradenigo stated that the picture had been ordered by an English visitor. If the picture is indeed that seen by Gradenigo, the exhibited pendant was not the companion picture, which so clearly complements this and is inseparable in style from it, but an as yet unidentified view of the Piazza San Marco. The Iveagh pictures were evidently conceived as a pair, so it seems unlikely that either was intended as a pendant to a view of the Piazza San Marco, as yet unidentified. And it may prove that the picture Gradenigo saw was a variant of the composition.
The Iveagh pictures are traditionally stated to have been acquired by Mr Arcedeckne – the name was pronounced Archdeacon – in Italy, and thus presumably in Venice. Chaloner Arcedeckne (1743-1809) was the son of Andrew Arcedeckne of Gurnamore, Co. Galway, who had built up a substantial sugar fortune. He was educated at Eton and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1760. He succeeded his father in 1763. This may explain why he seems not to have set out on the Grand Tour after leaving Oxford, presumably in the same year. He is, however, known to have been in Rome in February 1768 and arrived with his companion John Bohun in Venice on 20 August: the collector Charles Townley recorded that Arcedeckne set out on 7 September for Florence, where he attended the dinner to mark Sir Horace Mann’s investiture as a Knight of the Bath on 22 October. Thus, if Arcedeckne acquired the pictures he might have done so in 1768, which could in turn imply that the Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi was a development from the work shown in 1764, although it is of course hypothetically possible that Arcedeckne took over a commission originally placed by another patron, or acquired a picture painted, like two of Canaletto’s larger London views, as a speculation. Apart from the earlier, even larger but perhaps less concentrated pair at Waddesdon, Guardi only painted two other views of similar size, and may well have found it difficult to find patrons for works of comparable scale and ambition.
As was argued in 1996 (loc. cit.), some ‘tangential support’ is given to the dating of the Iveagh pictures to 1768 by the provenance of a pair of pictures formerly at Tissington Hall, Derbyshire, which are stylistically compatible with the Iveagh pictures, although less ambitious in scale than these. One of the two is a variant of the Buccleuch Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi (Munich, Alte Pinakothek; Morassi, no. 551). There can be little doubt that these were obtained by William Fitzherbert, subsequently 1st Baronet, for whom lodgings in Venice are known to have been engaged in time for the Ascension Day ceremonies in the Spring of 1769. Thus it may prove that Guardi’s evolution as a vedutista in the 1760s was more gradual than some writers have proposed. It might be argued that a temporary reduction in the ranks of rich English visitors to Venice in the early 1760s as the Seven Years War drew to its end delayed Guardi’s development: Canaletto had been placed in the same predicament by the War of Austrian Succession and travelled to England in consequence. If this chronology is accepted, it took Guardi a decade to progress from the controlled touch found in the canvasses of the late 1750s to the mastery of atmosphere and commanding technical virtuosity expressed in the Iveagh pictures, which, as it were, set the standards for the painter’s developed style as a view painter. But in the decades that ensued Guardi never ventured to record his adopted city on the monumental scale of these justly celebrated masterpieces.
Chaloner Arcedeckne in 1777 married Catherine Leigh, a pretty woman with a taste for fine dress if we can judge from the portrait attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, later in the Burton collection. They settled at Glevering Hall in Suffolk – where a new house of appropriate scale was built to the design of John White in 1792-4 – and he served as a Member of Parliament in 1780-6, a turbulent period of political history as the tensions resulting from the American War of Independence were expressed and resolved. His son and successor, Andrew Arcedeckne (1780-1849), was in 1826-31 Member of Parliament for Dunwich, a ‘rotten’ borough almost all of which was under the sea. He is known to have purchased works given to Canaletto from Alessandro Aducci in Rome in 1839 and lent the two Rialto views to the British Institution in 1831. With the exception of two views on the Grand Canal, lent by the Hon George Agar Ellis, later Lord Dover in 1829, no other works by the artist had previously been exhibited in London: Dover, who had acquired a large number of small works by Guardi, sent four of these to the 1831 exhibition, and ten in the following year, when H.A.J. Munro of Novar also lent a Venetian view. As no significant mature works by Guardi can be shown to have been in any readily accessible British collection, the Arcedeckne pictures were the first major pictures by Guardi that were available for study in London and may well have been seen at the exhibition by Turner (who had visited Venice for the first time in 1819) and other English landscapists of a generation which was in sympathy with the Venetian master’s interest in the expression of atmosphere.
Andrew Arcedeckne was the father of Louisa, wife of his nephew, Charles Andrew, 3rd Lord Huntingfield (1817- 1897), whose mother Catherine had been the daughter of Chaloner Arcedeckne. After his death in 1849, the Arcedeckne inheritance was absorbed in that of a yet more prominent Suffolk family, the Vannecks, whose estates centred on Wyatt’s great house at Heveningham (fig. 8). The Huntingfields, like so many landed families, faced financial problems as a result of agricultural recession in the late nineteenth century. A solution was to sell works of art. The Guardis were sold privately, Christie’s acting for Lord Huntingfield and Agnew’s for the purchaser, the Irish brewer Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Baron, and subsequently 1st Earl of, Iveagh (1847-1927), who was the firm’s outstanding client at the time. The price was £3,850.
Lord Iveagh (fig. 9) was by any standard a remarkable collector, as the visitor to Kenwood can see. But the pictures included in the Iveagh Bequest only tell part of the story. For to the constellation of British portraits, including Gainsborough’s early Lady Howe, to the Cuyp panorama of Dordrecht, the Vermeer Girl playing a Guitar purchased privately from Lord Mount Temple at Broadlands and the great Rembrandt Self-Portrait (fig. 10) bought from Lord Lansdowne at Bowood, all now at Kenwood, must be added an equal number of masterpieces that were retained for the family: the early Rembrandt Judas returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver from the Charlemont collection (Private collection); Watteau’s Italian Comedians in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 11) and the L’Accord Parfait, recently acquired for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Stubbs’s Gamekeepers (or more accurately Lord Torrington’s Agent and Keeper) (Private collection); Landseer’s Stag at Bay (Dublin Castle, on loan); and yet more outstanding English portraits. The two Guardis were among the pictures which the family kept. These were hung at Pyrford Court, and inherited by Rupert, 2nd Earl of Iveagh’s daughter, Lady Honor Channon, wife of the Anglo- American member of Parliament, Henry (‘Chips’) Channon, M. P. (d. 1957), whose visual taste was matched by the acute observation of his times revealed in his published diaries. Their son, Paul Channon, M. P. for Southend from 1959 until 1997 when he was elevated as Lord Kelvedon, was, in the opinion of Sir Denis Mahon and others, the most constructive Minister for the Arts of recent decades.
GUARDI: ARTISTIC LEGACY
Venice’s fortunes fluctuated with the fall of the Republic to Napoleon in 1797, but despite a decline in the city’s mercantile and political power, it remained a hugely popular destination for tourists and travellers alike. From the early nineteenth century, the city became increasingly popular among writers for its lyrical beauty and romantic grandeur. Countless authors of the nineteenth century, from Lord Byron to Henry James, visited the city, captivated by ‘this strange dream on water’ (C. Dickens, Pictures of Italy, London, 1846, p. 119). This literary passion for the city ushered in a flourishing of renewed artistic interest. Artists soon travelled to Venice from across Europe to paint its famous landmarks and reproduce in paint ‘all the splendour of light and colour, all the… air and the…history’ of the lagoon (H. James, Italian Hours, New York, 1909, p. 25). Many of these views, seeking to replicate the mood of the city as well as its topography, fell under the influence of the examples Guardi had painted before them. Unlike his great contemporary Canaletto, Guardi’s paintings focused not only on a meticulous rendering of carefully observed architecture and topography, but also on the mood and atmosphere of his subjects; light and movement was expressed with animated impasto brushwork, which brought to the fore the shimmering quality of light so evocative of the city, distancing his work from the smoother, more polished surfaces of Canaletto. The influence of Guardi’s spirited handling of his Venetian views, suffused with atmospheric luminosity, can be traced through a variety of later paintings by some of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s most significant painters. Guardi anticipates J.M.W. Turner’s heavily atmospheric and dreamily nostalgic views of Venice, such as the remarkable Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio (fig. 12; Christie’s, New York, 6 April 2006, lot 97, $35,856,000, now private collection). Likewise, members of some of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s most important and progressive art movements used Guardi’s work as a point of departure when capturing Venice in oil, especially in France, where he was so popular with collectors in the mid-19th century. Guardi often revisited the same views of the city throughout his career, painting them at different times of the day to capture the fluctuating effects of light in the lagoon. This practice was one which came to define some of the most important and influential paintings of Monet, who travelled to Venice in 1908. One such sequence was began in 1899, after he had acquired land with a pond near his house in Giverny in 1883 and constructed a Japanese footbridge over the water. During the summer of 1899, he produced a series of twelve views of the bridge, including one in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris (fig. 13), all from the same viewpoint but differing subtly in their use of colour, light and atmospheric effect - much in the same way that Guardi returned time and again to the Rialto Bridge.
‘Guardi’s love of movement, of pale tones and luminous skies, is based less on naturalism than on the heightened rococo of his century: its love of lightness, elegance and grace.’ M. Levey