Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Venice from the Bacino di San Marco

Francesco Guardi (Italian, Venice 1712–1793 Venice)
ca. 1765
Oil on canvas
48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Adele L. Lehman, in memory of Arthur Lehman, l965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 619
The view is among the most famous that Venice affords and shows the harbor basin and shipping, and the waterfront from the Mint, at left, to the incomplete façade of the church of the Pietà and beyond. Toward the left are the library, the bell tower and the clock tower, San Marco, the twin columns of the Piazzetta, and the patterned brickwork façade of Palazzo Ducale. The painting is a fairly early example of Guardi’s work in this specialized genre.
This seascape came to light in the 1950s, when it was exhibited at Agnew’s and at the Royal Academy. A bird’s-eye view, taken as if from above the water (even if in fact observed from a gondola or from the island of San Giorgio), it may date to the mid-1760s or a little later and is a quite early example of the views which occupied Francesco Guardi almost exclusively throughout the second half of his life. The buildings are depicted with a fairly high degree of detail, the figures are solid, and the working boats and gondolas are painted in careful perspective. The subject had been popular with Canaletto, who was a generation older and whose influence may still be felt. The Met’s painting was preceded by an enormous Guardi canvas belonging to the Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor, which is one of a pair, and was followed, much later, by a painting belonging formerly to the museum in Strasbourg which was destroyed in a fire in 1947.[1] There are more than a dozen variants, several of which have changed hands repeatedly on the art market.[2] If our painting had a pendant, it would typically have shown the opposite view, from San Marco toward the church and the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

The subject is among the most famous sights that Venice affords: the harbor basin and waterfront of the city from the canal beside the Mint, at left, along the Riva degli Schiavoni to a point well beyond the church of the Pietà. The prison and Palazzo Dandolo (now part of the Danieli Hotel) occupy the center. To the left are the principal buildings of the city, the library, the bell tower and clock tower in the piazza, the church of San Marco, the twin columns of the Piazzetta, and the enormous bulk of Palazzo Ducale. The clock tower and the Pietà hold the keys to a chronology of Guardi’s early views. The earliest possible date for the pair at Waddesdon, as James Byam Shaw (1955) first pointed out, may be established by changes made in 1755 and 1760 to two of the buildings depicted. Such changes, a matter of fascination to both the scholar and the occasional visitor, are often important to the art and science of dating Venetian views, and this is particularly true in the case of Francesco Guardi, whose work is rather poorly documented. But such information must be used with caution, because Guardi, a compulsive draftsman, must often have referred to whatever drawings he had in his studio, rather than returning to look again at the site, and it is therefore possible that he occasionally introduced inaccuracies.

Even allowing for this caveat, the structural changes can be taken into account. In August 1755, according to the diarist Pietro Gradenigo, the scaffolding was removed from the three-story wings (shown here) of the clock tower, while the construction of the façade of the Pietà, which was consecrated in 1760, was abandoned sometime between 1760 and 1763. The Waddesdon view is surely earlier than The Met’s because the Pietà façade appears to be finished. According to the prevailing argument, and it is difficult to imagine any other, Guardi must have been familiar with the plans of the architect of the church, Giorgio Massari, for the marble façade. The building had gone up rather quickly and the view painter decided to show it complete, in anticipation of the event, so that his work would remain up-to-date, little knowing that construction would soon be suspended and would not resume until 1906. In The Met’s canvas the marble work is incomplete. The view is unusual in showing the top of the façade and the roof of San Zaccaria in addition to the bell tower and dome of San Giorgio dei Greci. The staffage is of high quality and interest. The delicate thread-like patterns used especially for the mooring lines of the fishing boats are typical of the artist.

[Katharine Baetjer 2017]

[1] The canvas at Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (2212.1), measures 111 7/8 x 165 7/8 in. (284.5 x 423.8 cm). The pair, both signed, are much the largest view paintings by Francesco Guardi. The measurements recorded for the work formerly at Strasbourg, also one of a pair, are 47 1/2 x 79 in. (120.7 x 200.7 cm), roughly the same height as our picture, but wider. For reproductions, see Morassi 1973?, vol. 2, figs. 414a, 415.

[2] Accessible examples in public collections are at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. A picture rather similar to ours but smaller (24 x 28 3/4 in. [61 x 73 cm]), and closer to square in shape, was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, June 5, 2002, no. 105, ill. (in color). All are catalogued and reproduced in Morassi’s monograph.
Sir Sigmund Neumann, 1st Baronet, London (by 1904–d. 1916); his widow, Lady Neumann (later Newman), London (1916–d. 1951); their son, Sir Cecil Newman, 2nd Baronet, Burloes, Royston, Hertfordshire (1951–d. 1955); [Knoedler, New York; Marlborough, London; and Pinakos, Inc. (Rudolf J. Heinemann); 1958–59; sold for $205,000 to Lehman]; Mrs. Arthur (Adele L.) Lehman, New York (1958–d. 1965)
London. Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. "Loan Exhibition of Thirty-Nine Masterpieces of Venetian Painting," May 20–June 27, 1953, no. 17 (as "A View of the Riva with the Doge's Palace and the Campanile," Sir Cecil Newman, Bart. is listed among lenders).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "European Masters of the Eighteenth Century," November 27, 1954–February 27, 1955, no. 33 (as "The Bacino di San Marco with the Molo and Doge's Palace," lent by Sir Cecil Newman, Bt.).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 6–September 4, 1960, no. 55 (as "View of Venice," lent by Mrs. Arthur Lehman).

New York. Harvard Club. "Great Treasures from Private Collections of the Harvard Family, I," March 1965, unnum. checklist [see Ref. Virch 1965].

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. "Landscape Painting in the East and West," April 19–June 1, 1986, no. 5.

Kobe City Museum. "Landscape Painting in the East and West," June 7–July 13, 1986, no. 5.

Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum. "Painters of Venice: The Story of the Venetian 'Veduta'," December 15, 1990–March 10, 1991, no. 40.

London. National Gallery. "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals," October 13, 2010–January 16, 2011, no. 55.

Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals," February 20–May 30, 2011, no. 55.

Venice. Museo Correr. "Francesco Guardi, 1712–1793," September 29, 2012–January 6, 2013, no. 40 (as "Il molo e la riva degli Schiavoni dal bacino di San Marco").

George A. Simonson. Francesco Guardi, 1712–1793. London, 1904, p. 90, no. 117, as in the collection of Mr. S. Neumann, London.

J[ames]. Byam Shaw. "Guardi at the Royal Academy." Burlington Magazine 97 (January 1955), p. 15, as a smaller variant of the picture at Waddesdon Manor of about 1760, and calls ours slightly later, perhaps about 1765; mentions another version, formerly at the museum in Strasbourg.

Francis Watson. "Venetian Paintings at the Royal Academy 1954–55." Arte veneta 9 (1955), p. 259, dates this work and the one formerly in Strasbourg a little later than the picture at Waddesdon Manor.

Antonio Morassi. "Novità su Francesco Guardi." Arte veneta 13–14 (1959–60), p. 164, fig. 219, calls it a masterpiece of Guardi's middle period, dating it between 1755 and 1760.

Claus Virch. The Adele and Arthur Lehman Collection. New York, 1965, pp. 52, 55, ill. pp. 53 (color), 55 (detail), notes that it must date from 1755 or later; suggests that it may have had a pendant showing the view from San Giorgio Maggiore to Santa Maria della Salute, as does the Waddesdon Manor picture and as did the Strasbourg painting; mentions three more versions of the composition: Captain H. E. Rimington-Wilson, London; formerly George A. Hearn, New York; and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

Theodore Rousseau in "Ninety-fifth Annual Report of the Trustees, for the Fiscal Year 1965–1966." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25 (October 1966), p. 77, ill. p. 61.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 96, 493, 609.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 32–33, pl. 35, date it to the early 1760s.

Antonio Morassi. Guardi: Antonio e Francesco Guardi. Venice, [1973?], vol. 1, pp. 239–40, 384, no. 392; vol. 2, fig. 416, mistakenly as formerly in the collection of Robert Lehman.

Luigina Rossi Bortolatto. L'opera completa di Francesco Guardi. Milan, 1974, p. 99, no. 165, ill.

Michelangelo Muraro. "Giacomo Guardi." Colóquio, 2nd ser., 16 (December 1974), p. 18, includes it among paintings he identifies as late works by Giacomo Guardi.

Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 83, ill.

Dario Succi in Guardi: metamorfosi dell'immagine. Exh. cat., Castello di Gorizia. Venice, 1987, p. 65, fig. 54.

Ewoud Mijnlieff in Painters of Venice: The Story of the Venetian 'Veduta'. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1990, pp. 219–20, 225–26, no. 40, ill. pp. 219 (black and white) and 247 (color), dates it about 1760–65.

Boudewijn Bakker in Painters of Venice: The Story of the Venetian "Veduta". Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1990, p. 111, under no. 10.

Dario Succi. Francesco Guardi: itinerario dell'avventura artistica. [Milan], 1993, p. 49, fig. 47, dates it 1768–70.

Amanda Bradley et al. in Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2010, pp. 162, 165, 187, no. 55, colorpl. 55, date it about 1765–67.

Canaletto Guardi: Les deux maîtres de Venise. Ed. Bozena Anna Kowalczyk. Exh. cat., Musée Jacquemart-André. Brussels, 2012, pp. 36–37 n. 37, fig. 8 (color).

Charles Beddington in Francesco Guardi, 1712–1793. Ed. Alberto Craievich and Filippo Pedrocco. Exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice. Milan, 2012, p. 133, no. 40, ill. on cover and pp. 115–17, 133 (color, overall and details).

F[rancis]. R[ussell]. in Old Master & British Paintings: Evening Sale. Christie's, London. July 8, 2014, p. 68, dates it after 1770, along with other versions of the subject in the Musée Camondo, Paris, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, and three in the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon.

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