- Francesco Guardi
- The Ridotto in Venice with Masked Figures Conversing
- oil on canvas
- 30 by 41 1/4 by 77.5 107.5 cm.
Villa Algarotti, Treviso;
Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934), Paris;
By descent to his eldest son Baron James de Rothschild (1878-1957), London;
By inheritance to his widow Baroness Dorothy de Rothschild (1895-1988), London, by whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 19 April 1972, lot 17, for £32,000 to W.H. Patterson;
Anonymous sale ("The Property of a Gentleman"), London, Christie's, 9 July 1993, lot 95, where acquired by the present collector.
G. Fiocco, in U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, vol. XV, Leipzig 1922, p. 168;
G. Fiocco, Francesco Guardi, Florence 1923, pp. 68-9, no. 38, reproduced plate XXVIII;
G. Fiocco, "Il Ridotto e il Parlatorio del Museo Correr," in Dedalo, January 1926, pp. 544-46;
M. Goering, Francesco Guardi, Vienna 1944, pp. 26 and 78, reproduced plate 33;
Tiepolo et Guardi, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Galerie Cailleux, November 1952, under cat. no. 117, p. 72;
A. Morassi, "Novità su Francesco Guardi," in Arte Veneta, 1959-60, p. 167;
T. Pignatti, Il Museo Correr di Venezia, dipinti del XVII e XVIII secolo, Venice 1960, p. 97 (as "piuttosto vicino al Marcuola");
A. Morassi, Guardi. I dipinti, Venice 1973, vol. I, pp. 163 and 352, cat. no. 234, reproduced in colour (detail) p. 143, plate XXXIV, and reproduced in vol. II, as fig. 257 (image transposed with fig. 256);
L. Rossi Bortolatto, L'opera completa di Francesco Guardi, Milan 1974, p. 92, cat. no. 57, reproduced (erroneously) as no. 56;
A. Morassi, Guardi. I dipinti, Venice 1993, vol. I, pp. 163 and 352, cat. no. 234, reproduced in color (detail) p. 143, plate XXXIV, and reproduced in vol. II, as fig. 257 (image transposed with fig. 256);
D. Succi, Francesco Guardi. Itinerario dell'avventura artistica, Milan 1993, p. 226, reproduced in color on p. 227 (as by Gianantonio Guardi and datable to circa 1750);
M. Merling, in J. Martineau and A. Robison, The Glory of Venice. Art in the Eighteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 19 September - 14 December 1994; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 29 January - 23 April 1995, p. 455, under cat. no. 202 (listed under Francesco although "it is reasonable to conclude that these works are the production of the workshop run jointly by Antonio and Francesco");
F. Pedrocco, "Francesco Guardi e Pietro Longhi," in I Guardi: Vedute, capricci, feste, disegni e 'quadri turcheschi,' A. Bettagno, ed., Venice 2002, pp. 128 and 131, note 10 (as Francesco Guardi).
This lively interior with figures dressed in carnival costume is one of only a very small number of paintings by Francesco Guardi depicting the interior of a Venetian palazzo. Better known to us today as a view painter, this canvas nevertheless demonstrates Guardi's skill as a narrative painter and his extraordinary flair in telling a story. His figures twist, lean, stoop and roam about in a dimly lit interior where the damask covered walls catch flickers of light, as do the figures' coats and gowns. Guardi's color palette is subdued and he effectively portrays the different textures of the figures' costumes, from the intricate lace of their veils to the gold thread on their richly embroidered coats. The episode playing out before our eyes is ambiguous and Guardi leads us into a theatrical world of gambling and artifice, delighting in his intimation of relationships between characters through pose and gestures that we are left to decipher and interpret. The masked woman in the center of the composition is clearly of a higher social order given her elegant costume and the ermine muff resting on the arm of the attendant behind her. The man on the left, to whom she turns, appears to have won her favor but his pose and use of a walking stick would suggest that he is elderly and that his victory may have more to do with the size of his purse. The man wearing a green coat seen striding off to the right, looking over his shoulder in a brusque manner, has probably been spurned in favour of the other man. Guardi suggests that the men may have competed through gambling - the winner being on the left, the loser on the right - and playing cards are visibly strewn at their feet.
The scene takes place in the salone centrale or sala grande of the ridotto in Palazzo Dandolo at San Moisè, before its remodelling by Bernardino Maccaruzzi in 1768. The ridotti were public spaces, usually located close to theaters, where the wealthy upper classes would mingle with the populace and engage in these locations' principal activity – gambling. Since most visitors wore masks at the ridotto, it became the obvious location for conspiratorial plots and illicit amorous encounters, thus fuelling the imagination of artists and writers alike in 18th century Venice: Francesco Guardi, Pietro Longhi and Giambattista Tiepolo all painted numerous scenes of the ridotti and the writings of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) and Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) were both appreciated and inspired by these surroundings. Indeed Casanova praised the beautiful women to be found there, the ridotto proving itself to be an ideal location for his conquests, and Goldoni not only found eager listeners for his plays in the ridotto but he also set many of his scenes there (the climax of Goldoni's comedy Donne Gelose, written in 1752-3, takes place in the ridotto). For reasons of conspiracy the twenty ridotti scattered throughout Venice were closed through a decree of the Maggior Consiglio on the orders of the Doge in 1774, though they were re-opened shortly thereafter as state-run casinos to be administered by the Serenissima. The ridotto at Palazzo Dandolo was opened by Marco Dandolo in his residence at San Moisè in 1638 and it soon became a famous meeting spot for both Venetian and foreign nobility. It was amongst the ridotti that were closed by the Signoria on account of fortunes being squandered through gambling.
Guardi painted several similar variants of the ridotto at Palazzo Dandolo, all of which are closely related in terms of the figures they contain. They can be loosely classed into two groups: the first, including three works, depict the scene from a point further back in the room so that the room itself becomes the focus, rather than the figures, and the protagonists are given more space in which to circulate; one is in the Ca' Rezzonico (fig. 1), where it hangs alongside its pendant showing the parlatorio delle monache, the pair considered by Morassi as "among the most famous works of the Venetian Settecento;"1 another is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bequeathed from the Heinemann collection (paired with a View of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio);2 and the third is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.3 The second group includes the present work, another formerly with Cailleux in Paris (1952) and sold at Sotheby's in London in 2009 (fig. 2),4 and a third also sold at Sotheby's in London in 1992.5 These three works all lend themselves to a greater sense of intrigue, being of slightly squarer format and taken from a point closer to the figures, thus allowing us to interact more intimately with the characters. Although the atmosphere in this canvas is very different from the painting in Ca' Rezzonico, Guardi has borrowed specific motifs from the latter; such as the figures at the gaming table in the left background, the masked male figure leaning over in the left foreground, or the masked male figure in a green coat turning back just right of center. Guardi's paintings of the ridotto are generally dated to the 1750s, some time before the vedute for which he became famous and which he is thought to have turned to from the late 1750s until his death.
A related pen and wash drawing in the Art Institute of Chicago has been attributed to both Francesco and Gianantonio, the latter seemingly on the basis of an inscription bearing his name on the verso (fig. 3).6 Whilst Succi published the drawing with an attribution to Francesco he also published the present painting, together with the Ca' Rezzonico pair and other related works, as being by Gianantonio; an attribution that seems difficult to sustain on stylistic or technical grounds. Morassi, Pilo, Pedrocco and Montecuccoli degli Erri have all published the Ca' Rezzonico painting as a work by Francesco and it was exhibited as such in The Glory of Venice show in London and Washington in 1994-95.7 The figures in the present painting are much closer in style to those of works securely attributed to Francesco, such as his Miracle of a Dominican Saint in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,8 or the figures on the quay in his Rialto Bridge from the South in the collection of Paul Channon MP.9 Francesco's figures have a solidity of form wholly different to the multitude of flicks of paint that constitute those of Gianantonio in the great canvases in the Cantoria dell'Angelo Raffaele in Venice, perhaps his grandest commission of all.10 If one considers all the ridotti as by the same hand – as all modern scholars tend to – then the fact that the pendant to the ex-Heinemann ridotto is signed by Francesco lends further weight to the argument behind his authorship of them all.
This painting is probably that recorded in an unpublished inventory of the collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild at 41 Rue Faubourg St. Honoré in Paris (now the American Embassy). Although given no title, it was one of only two Guardis in the collection, and hung in the Library, where it was valued at £3,000. Baron Edmond was an avid collector of early Italian and Netherlandish paintings and his collection, inherited by his eldest son James, included Jan van Eyck's Virgin and Child with Saints and a Donor in the Frick Collection, New York. Baron Edmond also collected a number of 18th-century French and Italian pictures, including works by Canaletto, Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard.
1. The Ca' Rezzonico paintings measure 108 by 208 cm. each. See Morassi, under Literature, vol. I, pp. 351-52, cat. no. 233, reproduced vol. II, fig. 253 (ridotto) and vol. I, cat. no. 232, reproduced vol. II, fig. 252 (parlatorio). Morassi writes that they are 'tra le opere più celebri della pittura veneziana del Settecento' (p. 161).
2. Morassi, op. cit., vol. I, p. 352, cat. no. 236, reproduced vol. II, fig. 258.
3. See Succi, under Literature, 1993, p. 230, reproduced fig. 258.
4. Anonymous sale ('Property from a Private Collection'), London, Sotheby's, 8 July 2009, lot 37, for £1.6m. See Morassi, under Literature, cat. no. 235, reproduced as fig. 256; and also J. Cailleux, "Les Guardi et Pietro Longhi", in Problemi Guardeschi, Venice 1967, p. 53.
5. Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Lady'), London, Sotheby's, 9 December 1992, lot 80 (as Giovanni Antonio Guardi) for £335,000.
6. The drawing is published as a work by Francesco in Succi, see Literature, p. 225, reproduced fig. 251, and by Gianantonio in Morassi, Guardi. I disegni, Venice 1993, pp. 89-90, cat. no. 56, reproduced fig. 50.
7. M. Merling, "The brothers Guardi", in The Glory of Venice, exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 19 September - 14 December 1994; Washington, National Gallery of Art, 29 January - 23 April 1995, pp. 455-6, cat. no. 202, reproduced in color p. 306.
8. See Merling, op. cit., p. 303, reproduced fig. 51.
9. Ibid., pp. 314-15, reproduced figs. 210 and 211.
10. See F. Pedrocco, Antonio Guardi, Milan 1992, pp. 256-267, reproduced.