PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF HEINRICH GRAF, VIENNA
Among the plethora of vedute painted in Venice in the 18th century it seems astonishing to find barely a single example taken from the same viewpoint as presented here, incorporating as it does two of Venice’s foremost landmarks, the Punta della Dogana (Customs House) and the Palladian masterpiece of San Giorgio Maggiore, as well as the breadth of the Bacino di San Marco. Views of the Dogana looking southwest towards the Giudecca abound, but these tend to cut out San Giorgio as being too far east. Also common are views of the island of San Giorgio alone. In only one Canaletto do we come close to the same point of view as here, though seen from much closer, and the same view never occurs in Guardi’s œuvre.1 Here, we see the Dogana from the northern bank of the opening to the Grand Canal, from the steps of Ca' Giustinian. Beyond the Dogana we see the entire width of the island of San Giorgio, a sliver of water separating the left edge of the Customs House from the right edge of the monastic building on the island, and through that sliver we glimpse the distant Lido. As a compositional counterbalance to the Customs House, Marieschi has placed a heavy barge tied to the quay at the extreme left, her mast shooting skywards with her sails partly unfurled. The near quayside is a bustle of activity with numerous gondole vying for a way in or out of the quay. Beyond sits San Giorgio, isolated from the cacophony of the main island, sedately floating in the calm of the lagoon. Marieschi almost always returned on more than one occasion to the same composition, making only minor changes to the staffage from one canvas to the next; the unique view in the present lot is an exceptionally rare example from his body of work.
Little is known of Marieschi’s early training, although it is probable that he began his artistic career as a stage designer. His first recorded work in Venice was a 1731 set design for the setting of Carnival Thursday in the Piazzetta, prepared for the impresario Francesco Tasso. His early painted works took the form of capricci and vedute influenced by the work of fellow Venetians Luca Carlevarijs (1663 – 1730) and Marco Ricci (1676 – 1730). Marieschi’s painting of vedute was further encouraged by the success Canaletto had with the genre. His paintings differ from those of his contemporaries, however, in his more theatrical compositions, exaggerated perspectives, atmospheric color and animated handling of figures. In fact, he often employed a specialist figure painter such as Francesco Simonini (1686 – circa 1755) or Giovanni Antonio Guardi (1699 – 1760), both of whom enhanced numerous works by the artist with their feathery, richly colored staffage. Marieschi’s first recorded vedute date from 1736 and were executed for Johann Matthias, Graf von der Schulenburg (1661–1747). He then executed a set of six vedute in 1738 for the palace of Sanssouci, Potsdam, and in 1741 completed a set of 21 etchings of views of Venice. Other notable patrons included Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, and his works were collected, often en masse, by such powerful 18th-century men as Frederick II, King of Prussia.2 Succi dates the painting to circa 1736–40, while Montecuccoli degli Erri and Pedrocco date it slightly later, circa 1740–41 (see Literature).
Note on Provenance
Originally acquired by Heinrich (Heinz) and Anna Maria (Anny) Graf in December 1937 at Galerie Sanct Lucas in Vienna, the painting hung in the family’s Vienna apartment – a highlight of their small but refined collection. In March 1938, the family’s lives were upended with the German annexation of Austria. Ousted from his job and threatened by the growing tensions under a dictatorial regime, Heinz and his young family were forced to flee their home. In anticipation of the forced emigration, which by then had become so commonplace in Vienna, all of the Grafs’ possessions were put into storage, to be forwarded once the family settled into a new home. Having paid the substantial ‘exit tax’ demanded by the Germans, the Grafs made their way first to Italy, and then several months later to France, where they were joined by their two grandmothers in Quillan, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Heinz was confined to the notorious Camp Gurs in southwest France – where Jews of non-French nationality were interned. Anny worked desperately to secure her husband’s release (she too was interned for a brief period), finally managing to obtain visas for the United States for all but one member of the family. Required by the terms of his Gurs camp release to leave the country immediately, Heinz was forced to leave his family behind and travel alone to the safety of Portugal. The family eventually reunited in Lisbon months later, sailing together to the United States and reaching New York on 26 May 1941.
Settling in Queens, the family rebuilt their lives, with Heinz, now ‘Henry’, finding employment again as an investment banker. Attempting to recover the belongings that they had placed in storage at Schenker in Vienna, Henry and Anny undertook extensive correspondence with the United States occupation forces in Germany, but to no avail. It later came to light that their possessions, including this Marieschi and portraits of Anny’s parents by Umberto Veruda, had been seized by the Nazi regime on 16 November 1940 from the Schenker storage depot and subsequently sold. Despite years of searching, all efforts to locate their possessions failed, with both Henry and Anny passing away without ever seeing their paintings again.
Fortunately Henry had retained a professional photograph of the painting from the time he acquired it from Galerie Sanct Lucas. With this it was possible for his daughters to continue the search. Following the discovery of the painting nearly 15 years ago, and nearly 80 years after Henry and Anny Graf last saw the painting, a settlement between the heirs of the Graf family and the current owners was reached in December 2016.
Prior to its being acquired by Galerie Sanct Lucas the painting had been in the ownership of a Parisian named ‘Moller’ or ‘Maller’ (see Provenance). A prior Parisian provenance is confirmed by the Sanct Lucas photograph in the Witt Library, London. Manzelli (see Literature) cites the painting as in the ‘Collezione Maller’ and gives a date of 1938 which, given the painting had been sold to Galerie Sanct Lucas by the end of 1937, is slightly out of date.
1. For the Canaletto see J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto, London 1998, pp. 29–30, no. 299(c), reproduced plate 235.
2. See for example the work sold London, Sotheby’s, 9 July 2014, lot 61.
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