Francesco Guardi (full name – Francesco Lazzaro Guardi) – was a prominent venetian painter of the 18th cent., representative of “veduta” genre.
The first record about Francesco Guardi in the parish book states that he was baptized on October, 5th, 1712, in Venice. The boy was a son of a painter Domenico Guardi and famous master of oriental painting– Giovanni Antonio Guardi, who was also a head of the father’s studio and founder of the Venetian Academy of Fines Art. Francesco spent all his life in Venice – here his younger sister, Maria Cecilia, was born (she married in 1719 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo) and his younger brother Niccolo, who also worked in his father’s workshop.
Domenico Guardi came from the Mastellina town in Val di Sole in Trentino region, In 1690 the family moved to Vienna, where he started training in the private school of the painter Peter Strudel. Giovanni Antonio was in charge of his workshop up to 1760, completing big commissions – altarpieces for churches, canvases on historical and mythological subjects, portraits of individual clients and floral still lifes in the manner of Viennese artists. It’s known that they also made replicas from the pieces by Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto, Bassano, Ricci, Fetti, Maffei and portraits of then-contemporary French artists. Giovanni Guardi even made some representational portraits of the field-marshal Schulenburg, who was preoccupied with fortification of Venice in 1730 – 1745.
Probably Francesco helped his elder brother in creating landscape in the painting “The Four Church Fathers and the Virgin of Seven Sorrows with Saints” and executing some scenes on the subjects from antique mythology, like “Mucius Scaevola”, “The Triumph of Marcus Aurelius”, “The Magnanimity of Scipione” and others. They expressed typical for the 18th cent. virtues of serving and dignity.
Most of the specialists believe a panel and wooden balcony of the organ in the local church of St. Archangel Raphael belong to the authorship of both brothers. The panel depicts a scene from non-canonic “Book of Tobit”. It gave a bright evidence of the succession of the venetian painting tradition and reminds of such great precursors of Guardi as Piazzetta, Tiepolo and others, but still brining delicate notes of fading rococo epoch.
The first independent canvas, signed by Francesco was “Saint in extasy” that dates back to 1739. It’s considered to be a re-worked copy of Piazzetta’s painting – Guardi mirrored its diagonal composition. Other, also signed pieces of Francesco – two vertical panels with depiction of allegorical figures – Hope and Faith (1747). They noticeably differ from the previous work. They’re done with high accuracy of Late Baroque painting and demonstrate talent of the master for landscapes – the marine with dunes, boats and fishermen setting on the shore are depicted very truthfully.
The question, why Francesco Guardi, who had began as master of historical compositions (or as they called such specialists – figursta), later switched to veduta and capriccio exclusively still remained unsolved. Veduta is a term for a genre of cityscape and Capriccio is an architectural fantasy, combining together buildings, archaeological remains and other architectural elements.
Some art historians suggest that such shift happened in 1730s, when Francesco was still working in the studio of Giovanni Antonio, probably under the influence of his outstanding countryman Canaletto. Veduta was highly praised in Venice. Besides, landscape opened the road to self-sufficiency in the creativity for Guardi, whereas a lot of adherents of Piazzetta and Tiepolo used to work in historical painting.
First landscape compositions were inspired by canvases of Michele Marieschi and Marco Ricci. An early one – “Capriccio” – were an imaginative view of the harbor with ruins of antique temple, medieval castle on the background and figures of anglers on the foreground. It doesn’t yield in its quality and ability to represent mood to the best samples of Marco Ricci. As Marco Ricci, Guardi liked depicting scenes of sea-storms, approaching to naturalism in capturing light and air. Another theme that interested the artist were famous venitian architectural ensembles of Piazza San Marco and Piazzetta. He here followed Canaletto, using intensive, bright colors. The seascape on the background added freshness to the painting.
In 1775-1777 Francesco Guardi created a series of 12 canvases, dedicated to the celebration of election Doge Alvise IV Mocenigo in 1763 (“View The election of Doge Alvise IV Mocenigo at Sante Martia della Salute”, “Doge Alvise Mocenigo IV Giving a Banquet for the Ambassadors”, “Doge Alvise IV Mocenigo Appears to the People in St Mark’s Basilica” and others). Though they were rendered after Canaletto’s pieces, Guardi introduced many of his own ideas to the compositions, representing connection between figures and space in a totally different manner. Canvases didn’t simply document certain episodes of the city festivities – those scenes gained special emotional supply. Being a brilliant colorist, Guardi managed to capture not only their exuberant theatricality but individual time pace as well.
Guardi’s gift of a landscape-painter was fully revealed in the works of 1770s – 1790s. During these two decades he created vedutas of representational, documental character and more intimate, informal views, capriccios. Church of Santa Maria Salute and San Giorgio Maggiore Island became his favorite subjects. Peculiar angles, attention to the nuances of light turned those canvases into true musical compositions. The depth of the landscapes’ space, smooth wide brushstroke give softness to the tonal gradations that delicately change in accordance with the type of lighting.
The image of Venice was preserved in Guardi’s drawings as well. Done in mixed technique, in pen and ink, bister and brown inks, they glorify the fickleness of the Lagoon’s appearance. Those graphic works were higly praised even during the artist’s lifetime for their lyricism. Francesco’s late capriccios are also defined by poeticism, penetrating us into imaginative, but still so tangible world of tiny squares with churches or fantastical buildings, backyards or narrow streets, seen from old arches. Staffage on them included not only simple citizens, but also personages from Comedia dell’Arte, heroes in carnival masks. Though these “scherzi di fantasia” were absolutely finished paintings, by lightness, grace and artistry of the manner they’re similar to etudes.
In 1780s Guardi worked together with his son Domenico over decorations for venetian “La Fenice” theater. In 1784 he became a member of Academy, being already 72 years old. In 1782 Peter Edwards, the inspector general of Venetian public collections, commissioned him a series of drawings and paintings of various public appearance of Pope Pius VI during his visit to Venice in 1782 and visit of “Duke of the North” (crown-prince Paul and his wife). Those pieces are noticeable for their virtuous, vibrating paint, attention to the variety of surfaces and exquisite chiaroscural contrasts.
Late works occupy a special place in oeuvre of Francesco Guardi. “Grey Lagoon” (or “Gondolas on the Lagoon”), “ Hot-Air Balloon Rising ”, “Rio dei Mendicanti”, “Fire In The Oil Depot At San Marcuola” became the high points not only in the heritage of the artist, but in the whole European landscape painting of the 18th cent. They captivate with a feeling of vast expanses, which, together with an elegiac spirit, transforms Venice into a symbol of dreams, reverie. Late landscapes synthesized truthfulness (vero) and naturalness of feelings (naturalezza di senso), Guardi’s contemporaries were searching for in art. His idealization of surrounding was adhered by romanticists of the 19th cent. He also forestall the plein-air experiments of impressionist in 1860s – 1870s.
Francesco Guardi died on January, 1, 1793.