Giacomo Guardi (Venice 1764 – 1835 Venice)
A Capriccio with Figures among Ruins
Pen and black ink, grey wash, on blue prepared paper, 82 x 83 mm (3.1 x 3.2 inch)
Private collection, Germany
This charming miniature drawing has traditionally been given to Francesco Guardi (1712–1793), but has recently been identified as the work of his son and artistic heir, Giacomo Guardi, whose professional personality is becoming increasingly clear.1 Many drawings traditionally given to Francesco must in fact be by Giacomo. Born in a dynasty of painters, father and son specialised in views of Venice, its life and surroundings. Unlike the realistic vedute by Francesco’s contemporary Canaletto, the Guardis did not attempt an accurate portrayal of Venice in their city scenes and landscape views, but increasingly expanded more interpretive and evocative representations in which the light shimmers, forms dissolve, and figures are rendered with a sketchy spontaneity – the capriccio. This has linked the Guardi name to the Impressionist artists of a century later, but also connects them to many of the landscape painters of ancient Rome. Francesco Guardi is often regarded as the last luminary in the brilliant history of Venetian art.
Giacomo was greatly influenced by his artist father, with whom he frequently collaborated. After his father’s death he continued painting and drawing Venetian scenes, which became more realistic vedute towards the end of his career. It was his great sadness to see the demise of the Venetian city-state after Napoleon’s conquest of Venice, and the disappearance of many great works of art - yet in his drawings Giacomo depicted and celebrated the Venice as he has known it in his youth. Around 1829-30, Giacomo sold around two hundred drawings to the collector Teodoro Correr, which are now preserved in the Museo Correr in Venice and form the largest group of his work.2 Some drawings were inscribed by the artist with his name and address, ‘calle del peruchier’ (alley of the barber), with the additional note ‘dimandar’ (ask for him in the neighbourhood), which would help prospective collectors to find the artist.
Some drawings by Francesco and Giacomo Guardi were preparatory studies, but the fantasy capriccios appear to have been done for their own pleasure, as gifts to friends, or intended for collectors. They must also have been popular with Grand Tourists, as postcard-like remembrances of Venice.
The present drawing, among the very smallest and most intimate known by the artist, is likely to date to around 1780-90, quite early in the artist’s career, when his style was still almost indistinguishable from that of his father – which is why this drawing was so long attributed to Francesco. It can for instance be compared to Giacomo’s Capriccio with a Statue of a Warrior and a Ruined Castle on the Shore of the Lagoon in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which is dated to the same period (see last fig.).3
The authorship has been confirmed by Charles Beddington, to whom I am grateful.4
1. For Francesco and Giacomo Guardi as draftsmen, see: M. Goering, Franceso Guardi, Vienna 1944; A. Morassi, Guardi: Tutti i disegni di Antonio, Francesco e Giacomo Guardi, Venice 1975 (and more recently re-issued as A. Morassi, I Guardi. I dipinti, i disegni, Milan 1993); J. Byam Shaw, The Drawings of Francesco Guardi, London 1951.
2. Terisio Pignatti (ed.), Disegni antichi del Museo Correr di Venezia, vol. III (Galimberti-Guardi), Venice 1983, pp. 207-286, nos 694-910.
3. Pen and brown ink, grey wash, 471 x 347 mm; inv. no. 1975.1.344 (Robert Lehman Collection).
4. Email correspondence of 8 August 2013.