FRANCESCO GUARD! died a few years before Napoleon strangled and ruined the city of pleasure. But in Guardi’s lifetime, Venice had surrendered most of her glories to procurers and foreign mercenaries.
Her proud and cultivated
sensuality which, in the days of meridian prosperity, had been kept free from
debauchery, had fallen into viciousness and decay, and the city was known
politely as the brothel of Europe.
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In spite of the disintegration, the legendary
Venice lived on, the “dream city,” as Turner called her, the midnight hunting
ground of Lord Byron, the trysting place of fortunate lovers, and the goal of
And the legendary Venice, in the face of all that has happened
to Italy, lives today in the imaginations of artists and romantic sightseers the
Guardi was the first artist of prominence to paint Venice from the point of
view of the sightseer.
He had an eye for the picturesque-for palaces envel
oped in colored mists, for architectural effects, and the Grand Canal at the
end of day. He set the example for the
endless procession of painters from
Turner to Whistler and the modem amateurs who have gone to Venice to study
the wonders of light and atmosphere, and to paint the gorgeous embroidery
of the old buildings.
But Guardi had a signal advantage over the average sightseer: he knew his
city and he had the leisure and the artistry to discover arresting scenes which
escaped the eye of
tourist-painters at the mercy of guides. He was, in a way,
a landscape painter. In a floating studio erected on an old gondola, he moved
from canal to canal, sketching and painting in the open air. He was not a
student of atmospheric tones,
nor did he paint the intensities of natural light
in the manner of Constable; but he consciously aimed at swift, instantaneous
impressions of his city, and to a certain extent, approximated the evanescent
lights and broken tones of the modem impressionists.
Guardi produced more
sensational pictures but none of more sterling merit than The Piazzetta. The
perspective of the view was violated to include more architecture, but the
general effect is one of unstudied accuracy.
It is a souvenir of Venice, the first
of its kind, painted with taste and tact; it is an example of Venetian local
color that has outlived the perennial flow of sentimental pictures inspired by
the dream city.