Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 50 x 84 cm
Francesco Guardi’s career as a view painter, for which he is principally remembered today, was only the second stage in a long working life which began as the junior partner, with his elder brother Gian Antonio, in an enterprise turning out a vast range of religious and historical subjects, flower paintings, battle scenes and genre subjects. Their compositions were not particularly original, and Francesco’s own work is hard to distinguish from that of his brother, thirteen years his senior and clearly the dominant partner, although an attempt to do so has been made recently. It was not until a year after Gian Antonio’s death in 1760 that Francesco Guardi’s name was inscribed in the Fraglia of Venetian painters, but as a painter of views rather than history subjects, so we may assume that the two brothers had established their own specialities before the elder’s death. Francesco did not entirely abandon figure painting after his brother’s death, as is evidenced by a somewhat disappointing altarpiece from 17773, which indicates that he was well advised to dedicate his principal efforts to the production of veduti.
Guardi’s poetic vision, less true to the topography of the city but sometimes more successful at conveying the spirit of Venice than Canaletto’s more formal approach, has an immediacy that caught the imagination of both contemporary patrons and succeeding generations of collectors. In 1764 Guardi is not only described as having exhibited two views commissioned by an English patron but also as a ‘good pupil of the famous Canaletto’, which may have been no more than a reference to Guardi’s drawing on many of Canaletto’s original compositions. Unlike Canaletto, we do not look for small anecdotes; Guardi’s figures seldom exhibit any individual character but are used as visual accents, emphasizing the vivacity and complex action of his scenes. His sun-draped palaces and churches seem to float between the silvery blue skies and shimmering lagoon or canals, the sails of the boats often crowded together to provide sparks of brilliant white, further enlivening the view.