This charming capriccio is a close variant of Francesco Guardi's early canvas in the Uffizi, Florence (inv. 3359; Morassi, no. 853). In the present picture, the artist has replaced the standard with the white flag and the woman draping the red cloth over the bridge, which appear at the center of the Florentine painting, with a sculpted relief of the Winged Lion of Saint Mark. This detail, along with the classical archway on the left, recalls elements from the land-gate to the Arsenal, an iconic building of early Renaissance Venice that is thought to have been built by the architect and sculptor Antonio Gambello in 1460. In this way, Guardi imbued his fantasy landscape with an air of specificity that would have delighted his erudite clientele.
Antonio Morassi considered this painting to be an 'opera eccellente', of the artist's mature style, painted slightly later than the Uffizi version and datable to around 1770. He cites three additional capricci that were originally part of this series, all of very high quality, which passed through Knoedler in New York. The first, A capriccio of a ruined arch with a villa in the distance, was also acquired by the grandfather of the owner of the present painting (Morassi, no. 987). The other two, A capriccio with a bridge, ruins and the lagoon, and A capriccio with ruins and the lagoon (Morassi, nos. 863 and 980) were acquired by Marshall Field V in Chicago, who bequeathed them to The Art Institute of Chicago. These latter two paintings were offered at Christie's, London, 3 July 2012, lot 56. French export stamps on the versi of the ex-Field capricci suggest that the pictures, like other mature works by the artist, were originally bought by a French collector.
Springfield, Massachusetts, Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Francesco Guardi: 1712-1793, 20 February-21 March 1937, no. 11.
The Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on loan, 1975 - circa 1990.
A. Morassi, Guardi. Antonio e Francesco Guardi, Venice, 1973, I, p. 469, no. 854; II, fig. 774.
L. Rossi Bortolatto, L'opera completa di Francesco Guardi, Milan, 1973, p. 102, no. 220, 'Versione stupenda'.
with Knoedler, New York, where acquired by the grandfather of the present owner.
About Francesco Guardi
Born to a family of painters in Venice, Italy, Francesco Guardi was among the last painters of the Venetian School. Best known for his veduta paintings—highly detailed, large-scale depictions of Italian vistas—Guardi followed in the footsteps of his father and brother and, most notably, the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto. In his brother's workshop, Guardi painted figure paintings, but in 1760 would transitioned to create his signature view paintings, which were similar to Canaletto’s in their architecture and city scenes, but with a more imaginative perspective and a freer, less intricate handling of paint. Although incorporating elements of topographical accuracy, Guardi often rearranged the architecture within his compositions to create capriccio-style, fantastical scenes, marked by his painterly dotting and spirited brushstrokes which brilliantly captured the atmosphere and light of the city.
Italian, 1712-1793, Venice, Italy, based in Venice, Italy