A dramatic painting by Francesco Guardi of the Rialto Bridge and a bustling Grand Canal is being sold for only the second time since it was painted in the mid-1760s. The grandly scaled canvas, which has been handed down through generations of the Guinness family, is expected to sell for around £25m.
“It is one of the greatest 18th-century view paintings and one of the greatest pictures Guardi ever painted,” says Henry Pettifer, the head of Old Master paintings at Christie’s, which is auctioning the work this summer. “It is a startlingly modern composition that gives a sense of the atmosphere and sensuous experience of being in Venice.”
The painting, The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, is one of a pair of views Guardi painted of the famous Venetian scene–one looking north and one looking south. The works were first acquired, most likely from the artist, in 1768 by a young English grand tourist called Chaloner Arcedeckne. Both paintings stayed in his family until 1891 when they were sold privately for £3,850 to Edward Cecil Guinness, the chief executive and then chairman of the brewing company.
The two Guardis were kept in the Guinness family and at one time hung at Pyrford Court in Surrey. The paintings were eventually separated in 2011 when the pendant, Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon, was sold to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby’s for £26.7m–a record for a Venetian view painting. A temporary export bar failed to keep the work in the UK.
Any overseas buyer will also have to apply for an export licence for the Christie’s picture. “Guardi is very well represented in the UK,” Pettifer says, but adds that works such as this appeal across continents and collecting categories. “We are in a market that is increasingly driven by a desire for the best of the best. This picture would be of interest to any private collector at the top end,” he says.
The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi will be shown in New York before returning to Venice for the first time for an exhibition at the Aman Hotel (8-15 May) to coincide with the Venice Biennale. It will then travel to Hong Kong before being auctioned at Christie’s Old Master sale in London on 6 July.