Francesco Guardi, the last of the great 18th century landscape painters
On the third centenary of the birth of Francesco Guardi (1712-2012), Venice’s Fondazione Musei Civici is dedicating a major retrospective to the artist, running at the Correr Museum from 29 September to 6 January. Curated by Alberto Craievich and Filippo Pedrocco, with Gabriella Belli as its scientific director, the exhibition will include a cycle of six seminars at Ca’ Rezzonico – Museum of the 18th Century in Venice, from 25 September to 11 December at 6 PM, featuring the participation of some of the leading experts in 18th century Venetian history, accompanied by actors who will read historic documents and texts. The exhibition, which enjoys the High Patronage of the President of the Republic, is produced by the Fondazione Musei Civici in collaboration with 24 Ore Cultura – Gruppo 24 Ore, with the support of Fondazione Antonveneta and the participation of Fondazione Ermitage Italia and the Autonomous Province of Trento. From 6 October to 6 January, the latter presents, at the Buonconsiglio Castle, an exploration of Guardi’s youthful works, titled “Francesco Guardi in the land of his forefathers. Figure painting and floral capriccios”.
One hundred and twenty one drawings and paintings, selected from the artist’s body of work in light of their historic value and quality, comprise the Venetian exhibition. Five sections trace Guardi’s life and artistic career, starting with his early works – inspired by folk painting – and continuing with a series of religious-themed works and his first landscape and capriccio paintings, a genre which set him apart from the other Venetian masters. It ends with feasts and ceremonies depicting events taking place in magnificent Venetian settings, all in the author’s trademark style
The exhibition is a collaborative effort between Fondazione Musei Civici and other Italian and foreign museums, with works on loan from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, the National Gallery of London, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Francesco Guardi, who was born into a family of painters, trained in the family workshop. After his death in 1793, the artist was largely forgotten, as was the case for his father Domenico and his brothers Antonio and Nicolò, who never managed to achieve wealth in their lifetimes. After being rediscovered in France in the 19th century, thanks to renewed interest in rococo art, Guardi was the subject of the first scientific monograph written about a Venetian artist.
The exhibition begins with figure paintings. Of particular note are Il Ridottoand Il Parlatorio delle monache di San Zaccaria, currently held at Ca’ Rezzonico; the former is displayed alongside Il Ridotto Rothschild for the first time. Secular works depicting everyday life are displayed side-by-side with religious-themed paintings. One of the highlights is Il Miracolo di San Gonzalo, normally held at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum; this painting is notable for its high artistic quality, which stands out in light of a certain discontinuity in the quality of Guardi’s output.
Guardi’s first cityscapes came when he turned forty years old, most likely in response to the emergence of a lucrative market focusing on foreign visitors, now that Canaletto had moved to England. The paintings on display, in spite of being inspired by both Canaletto and Marieschi, still appear somewhat “raw”. Nevertheless, the section on cityscapes is one of the exhibition’s most fascinating, since it details ten years of study and research which led to works of great prestige, such as the National Gallery of London’s Piazza di San Marco or the Metropolitan Museum di New York’s imposing Bacino di San Marco.
Another section is dedicated to landscape paintings and capriccios, which comprise some of Guardi’s most original output, especially in terms of the extraordinarily light touch shown by the artist. On display are paintings from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Worms Museum, in which vibrant, surreal effects, recalling Luminism, transform the paintings’ natural elements. A combination of real and imaginary places, and modern and ancient architecture, is the trademark of the capriccios, an 18th century genre that seems tailor-made for Guardi’s vivid imagination. Two imposing Paesaggi fantastici from the Metropolitan Museum in New York combine all these elements into an unlikely, yet fascinating ensemble.
After a section dedicated to feasts and ceremonies of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, of which Guardi was the “last chronicler”, the exhibition ends with the artist’s later works, which were characterized by a highly personal style: figures are transformed into simple splotches of colour, a quick white scribble or a trembling black dot. Works from this period include Regata sul Canale della Giudecca from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, and two landscapes from the Thyssen Museum in Madrid.