The Views of Venice at the top of Old Masters sales



Within the Painting segment, Old Masters works have always been considered as safe-haven assets, compared with modern or contemporary works. And the figures tend to confirm this trend. While prices for modern and contemporary paintings have climbed 33.2% and 41.1% respectively since April 2001, demand for pre-19th century paintings is today at the same level as five years ago.
And yet, despite this relative stability, Old Masters works can also be extremely speculative, particularly if the pieces are of exceptional quality. Furthermore, the highest bid so far this season was made at an Old Masters sale. Joseph Mallord William TURNER‘s painting entitled Giudecca, La Donna della Salute et San Giorgio, the highlight at Christie’s Old Masters paintings sale in New York sold for USD 32 million on 6 April, setting a new record for a British painting.

Considered as the finest Turner work to have come onto the market in recent years, the large format (61 x 91.5 cm) oil painting represents a view of Venice! However, these same views of Venice, but by Italian artists this time, have generally been the star lots at Old Masters auctions of late. These veduti (views) of Venice are in high demand at auctions, often exceeding the 1 million euro mark.
Works by Giovanni Antonio CANAL claimed the highest bids in 2005 with a record of GBP 16.6 million for Venice, the Grand Canal, looking North-East from Palazzo Balbi at Sotheby’s London on 7 July. This painting was originally owned by Sir Robert Walpole, a former British Prime Minister, who sold it at an auction in 1751.
On 22 June, during the sale of Old Masters paintings, the Paris-based auction house Tajan, will offer an exceptional Vue de Venise by Francesco GUARDI, estimated at EUR 2 million to EUR 2.5 million. This work could well fetch the highest price at an auction in France in 2006.

Between 2002 and 2005, prices of veduti gained on average +164%, and records are constantly being broken. While Luca Carlevaris is considered as the father of veduti, it is Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as « Canaletto » who was responsible for making the genre so popular by practically industrialising the production of veduti in Venice and their sale to foreign tourists. Canaletto holds the record for the two most expensive veduti. On top of his record of 7 July, the previous evening at Christie’s, a work by Canaletto entitled The Bucintoro at the Molo Venice, on Ascension Day, a masterpiece from the Champalimaud collection, went under the hammer at GBP 10.2 million (EUR 15 million), thus doubling the pre-sale estimate. Already in January 2005, the sale of The Bacino di San Marco, looking east from the Mouth of the Giudecca for USD 4.7 million at Christie’s reflects the high demand among collectors for his work. Overall Canaletto’s price index jumped 86% over twelve months!

Until last July, Francesco Guardi had held the record for a vedute since 1 December 1989, when his View of the Giudecca Canal and the Zattere in Venise sold for FRF 85 million (EUR 13 million) at Sotheby’s Monaco. Francesco worked with his brother Giovanni Antonio on numerous religious works. It was only after his brother’s death in 1760 that his Venetian views started to become very popular. Concentrating on colour and spontaneous touch, he was one of the most prolific artists of his era. Almost twenty paintings come up for auction every year. On 8 July 2005, The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Bembo by Guardi was the star lot at Christie’s sale. The painting from the John & Anna Jaffe collection, estimated at GBP 3 million to GBP 5 million, fetched GBP 3.9 million.
His paintings depicting imaginary scenes, capricci, were mostly small format, and almost one-half of these have sold for less than EUR 100,000 over the past ten years. However, hammer prices in this price range will eventually become rare as his price index has practically tripled in four years! For example, Capriccio with Ruins, a painting measuring 12.7 x 19 cm and estimated at USD 80,000 to USD 120,000 sold for USD 140,000 (EUR 116,000) on 26 January 2006 at Sotheby’s.

Guardi and Canaletto are not the only artists to have enjoyed such high bidding for their works. A new record was set for Luca CARLEVARIS on 7 July 2005 when his painting Venice, a View of the Molo with the Doge’s Palace looking West sold for GBP 2 million. The Piazza San Marco, Venice, a work by Bernardo BELLOTTO, Canaletto’s nephew and assistant, was auctioned at USD 4.2 million on 26 January. The same work, originally authenticated as one of Canaletto’s works, sold for GBP 950,000 in December 1995.