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The Painting Is Among a Range of Recent Acquisitions, from a 15th-century Stained-Glass Drawing to Works by Contemporary Photographers

July 26, 2005

The Getty announces the acquisition of an 18th-century old master vedute or view painting, The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Bembo (about 1768) by the Venetian artist Francesco Guardi (1712–1793). The 18-by-30 inch oil on canvas work captures the famed waterway in the early morning light, showcasing the delicate balance and luminous atmospheric effects that Guardi is known for.  

"This is one of the finest and best-preserved paintings by Guardi to come on the market in recent years and we are thrilled to add it to our collection," says William Griswold, acting director and chief curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum. "Very few examples of the artist’s work survive with so much of the original, carefully constructed, and fragile paint surface intact, clearly revealing the power of Guardi’s vision."

The newly acquired work is a beautiful panorama of the Grand Canal emerging from the morning haze, with houses in muted shades of white, rose, and peach, and graceful gondolas floating on the water. As the channel recedes, facades punctuate the skyline, casting gentle reflections on the water. This perspective reflects Guardi’s intimate and emotional connection with his city.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Guardi spent his entire life in Venice, depending on the patronage of local clients rather than venturing abroad. In his works, the artist preferred to show Venice as a constantly evolving site, rather than a tourist attraction focused on significant monuments. He was the only vedute painter to pay careful attention to new construction. Guardi celebrated current events, the city’s inhabitants, and documented changes to its topography. The Grand Canal bears all of these elements. In the painting, he inserts a local family, probably his patrons, in the upper balcony of the Palazzo Bembo. He also pictures the church of San Geremia in the midst of its renovation, and draws attention to a new addition to the Renaissance palace by marking the structure in two tones. 

Francesco Guardi was the most famous of the artistic Guardi family—his father was a well-patronized painter, his sister married Giambattista Tiepolo, and his brother Antonio ran the family art workshop. Guardi collaborated with his brother on many works, including altarpieces and frescos, turning to view painting only later in his career, probably in the early 1760s after Antonio’s death. He excelled in this genre, bringing a fresh and exciting voice even to the very first vedute works he attempted.  Guardi developed a way of describing Venice that concentrated on transitory effects of weather, human activity, and architecture. His mode of painting incorporated delicate glazes, dramatic impastos, and irregular brushwork that made the surfaces of his paintings luminous but fragile. Although Guardi’s paintings were rarely reproduced as prints, Dionigi Valesi engraved this composition of The Grand Canal in 1768.

The painting will join three drawings by Guardi already in the collection—View of Campo San Polo (1793), An Imaginary View of a Venetian Lagoon, with a Fortress by the Shore (1750–55), and A Theatrical Performance (1782). It will complement the Getty’s growing holdings of major 18th-century landscape paintings, including recent acquisitions by Claude-Joseph Vernet (A Storm on a Mediterranean Coast and A Calm at a Mediterranean Port, both 1767), and Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (Classical Landscape with Figures and Sculpture, 1789), as well as oil sketches by Jean Joseph-Xavier Bidauld (View of the Bridge and Part of the Town of Cava, Kingdom of Naples, 1785–90) and Simon-Joseph-Alexandre Clément Denis (Study of Clouds with a Sunset near Rome, 1786–1801). The work will also be an important addition to the Museum’s 18th-century Venetian collection, which includes examples by important practitioners such as Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, and Luca Carlevarijs.  The Grand Canal will be placed on view in the South Pavilion at the Getty Center.

Other Recent Acquisitions

Among the Getty’s other recent acquisitions is a 15th-century German drawing depicting scenes of courtly love, which was used as a design for a stained-glass quatrefoil. Design for a Quatrefoil with a Castle, Two Lovers, a Maiden Tempted by a Fool, a Couple Seated by a Trough, and a Knight and His Lover Mounted on a Horse (around 1475–90) was made by an artist working closely with the Master of the Housebook. The Master of the Housebook is recognized as one of the most gifted and engaging Northern European masters of his period, and is credited as the inventor of the secular glass panel. The drawing is one of only two surviving stained-glass designs associated with the artist, whose influential work was copied for many years. It complements the Getty’s holdings of stained glass, one of the largest on the West Coast, and will anchor a group of nine preparatory drawings already held in the Museum. It will also be a key addition to the Getty’s early German collection.

Also new are groups of photographs by two mid-career California artists—Bill Owens (born 1938) and Anthony Hernandez (born 1947). This acquisition marks the entry of both photographers into the Getty’s collection. Many of the 18 works by Owens are rare early prints that were displayed in his first exhibition in 1975 and included in his influential 1973 book Suburbia, which depicted the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the East Bay suburbs near San Francisco. The 20 Hernandez photographs demonstrate a different approach to photographing the ordinary in the mid-1970s. Among the works are pictures he made of people waiting at bus stops along uninviting Los Angeles thoroughfares and people relaxing around downtown office buildings at lunch hour. The photographs of Owens and Hernandez complement each other, as well as works by artists such as Garry Winogrand and William Eggleston already in the Getty’s collection. They were acquired through the generosity of the Getty’s newly established Photographs Council, a group of modern-day patrons who support projects that advance the work of the Museum's photographs department.

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