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Two major works by Canaletto to lead Sotheby's Old Masters Evening Sale in London
Canaletto, A View of the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. Oil on canvas, in carved and gilt wood frame, 46.5 by 77.1 cm; 18¼ by 30¼ in. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 4 December 2013, Sotheby’s London will present two of the most important works by Canaletto to come to the market in recent times. Painted between 1738 and 1742, at the height of the artist’s career, these majestic canvases depict two of the most celebrated of Canaletto’s Venetian subjects: the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal and St. Mark's Square. Coming from HSBC’s Corporate Art Collection, the two works will be offered as a pair in the Old Master Paintings Evening Sale, with an estimate of £8-12 million.

Alex Bell, Joint International Head and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department, commented: “Canaletto was one of the rare artists of his time to have an international reputation. He was an unrivalled source of inspiration to his peers and his works were sought after by the greatest European collectors. Almost three centuries later, his universal appeal endures, and today his oeuvre is appreciated by an ever growing audience. Asian and Russian collectors, in particular, have shown strong interest in Italian view paintings in recent sales, and we will therefore be exhibiting these exceptional Canalettos not only in Europe and the US, but also in Moscow and Hong Kong.”

Giovanni Antonio Canal, commonly known as Canaletto (1697-1768) was considered the finest view painter of his time. Thanks to his unique skill in capturing natural light and atmospheric effects, Canaletto’s evocative depictions of his native Venice were especially in demand among British noblemen visiting Venice on the Grand Tour, keen to take home impressive souvenirs of their experience.

The rare and outstanding works to go under the hammer in December are likely to have been an English Grand Tourist commission. Their provenance goes back to the second half of the 18th century when they entered the collection of the self-made banker John Furnell Tuffen, a man of high intellect who travelled widely on the continent. At his sale in 1818 they were bought by William Lygon, 2nd Earl Beauchamp, in whose family they remained for the next five generations until sold in 1939. The Earls of Beauchamp resided at Madresfield Court in Worcestershire - one of the most romantic houses in Great Britain and the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead. The works remained in private collections from 1939 until Safra Republic Holding bought them at auction in 1997. Safra Republic Holding was later purchased by HSBC in 1999.

These two spectacular canvases are supreme examples of a very interesting phase within Canaletto’s production. From the late 1730s until circa 1742, the undisputed master of the Veduta became very influenced by his own nephew and precocious pupil, Bernardo Bellotto – a relationship well-documented by the exhibition “Canaletto and His Rivals” organised by the National Gallery, London, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington in 2010 and 2011. During this period, the warm sunshine so characteristic of Canaletto’s early maturity gave way to a cool, clear light, bringing with it clarity and precision. The exceptional state of preservation of these two Venetian views emphasises the translucence and subtlety of Canaletto’s highly refined output at this moment of his career.

These most remarkable works date from just after, and are the same size (46.5 by 77.1 cm; 18¼ by 30¼ in.) as, the so-called “Harvey series” of twenty views of Venice that, along with the series from the early 1730s at Woburn Abbey, constitute perhaps the peak of Canaletto’s achievements. These two paintings have also the same dimensions as, and were painted within a year or two of, the picture formerly in the Wrightsman Collection, acquired by The J. Paul Getty Museum earlier this year**.

Given the strong interest in Canaletto’s view paintings around the world, the two works will be showcased on an international tour, travelling to cities including Hong Kong, Moscow, New York and London.

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