This beautifully preserved painting is a fine example of Francesco Guardi’s small-scale works from the 1770s. The church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Baroque masterpiece of Baldassare Longhena, which was completed in 1681 and stands at the entrance to the Grand Canal, dominates the right side of the composition. The low horizon line of the distant Riva degli Schiavoni, shown receding across the left side of the picture plane, allows for an expanse of sky in which Guardi displays the characteristically frenetic and irregular brushwork that marks his distinctive, mature style.
While Guardi customarily worked on canvas, he evidently liked to use relatively pale soft-wood panels for works on a small scale from the 1770s onwards, possibly influenced by the practice of Dutch painters of the previous century, for whose work there was a significant market in Venice. The use of such supports meant that it was possible to achieve sharper detail in both the architecture and the figures.
Throughout the 1770s and 1780s, Guardi’s palette lightened and brightened. He began rearranging topographical elements, employing entirely whimsical lighting, exaggerating the effects of perspective and suffusing his images with a pale glow. Michael Levey observed: ‘Nothing is quite still [in these works]. Boats dart, flags flap, and the buildings themselves seem to unwind like so much ribbon along the Grand Canal.’ From the first, Levey concluded, Guardi: ‘intended to interpret Venice rather than reproduce it, and his best views of it capture a sparkle of light and a sense of eternal movement which Canaletto never quite caught, and which is certainly part of the city’ (Painting in eighteenth-century Venice, Oxford, 1980, pp. 127-30).
While Canaletto depicted this view on a number of occasions (see, for instance, W.G. Constable, Canaletto, Oxford, 1962, nos. 168-176), Guardi appears to have painted it in only one other instance: the much larger canvas in the Art Institute of Chicago (A. Morassi, Guardi. I dipinti, Venice, 1973, I, pp. 397-8, no. 464; II, fig. 469). A preparatory pen and wash drawing for the right section of the composition was formerly in the collection of C. Broglio, Paris (fig. 1; A. Morassi, Guardi. Tutti i disegni, Venice, 1975, p. 141, no. 354, fig. 357). Unaware of the present picture, Morassi associated this with the Chicago picture, which has a viewpoint to the right. James Byam Shaw noted that the Broglio drawing would appear to have been executed from the Loggia of the Abbazia di S. Gregorio (The Drawings of Francesco Guardi, London, 1951, p. 62, no. 20).