An historic painting showing the New Horse Guards from St James’s Park by the Venetian painter Canaletto is to be auctioned at the Dorotheum in Austria in October. The oil on canvas depicts a rare view of the London landmark under construction in 1753. The painting is the centrepiece in a sale of Old Master Paintings on Wednesday 17 October 2012 where it is estimated to fetch €2-3 million. In the foreground of the painting is Horse Guards Parade where traditionally monarchs take the salute at the Trooping the Colour ceremony on their official birthday. This vast parade ground has recently become more familiar throughout the world for being the 2012 Olympic venue for beach volley ball.
The painting is an important historical record documenting 18th century London and, arguably, the most English of the paintings Canaletto executed during his time in England from 1746 to 1755. He had many English patrons including the Duke of Richmond and on his arrival his reputation was already widespread from the works acquired by English Grand Tourists in Venice. Art historians often claim that Canaletto saw England through Venetian eyes, however, this work has an essentially English feel with its diffused atmospheric light which anticipates the works of later English artists such as Turner.
Canaletto, real name Giovanni Antonio Canale, lived from 1697 to 1768. He painted some 40 works during his English stay, many of which remain in the aristocratic collections for which they were originally commissioned while others are in the National Gallery, London, the National Maritime Museum and the collection of HM The Queen. This work, one of only three known paintings for which Canaletto used panel support, is closely related to the celebrated painting, The Old Horse Guards from St James’s Park, 1749, in The Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation, and the drawing of The Old Horse Guards from St James’s Park in the British Museum. The latter shares details with this composition, especially the groups of figures in the foreground, and the beating of a carpet on the right.
In the painting coming up for auction, New Horse Guards, designed by William Kent then Chief Architect to George II, is shown in the course of construction, Old Horse Guards having been demolished in 1749-50. Canaletto depicts scaffolding around the clock tower and the south wing has still to be built, establishing the date of the painting between November 1752 and November 1753 when New Horse Guards was completed. From the left can be seen the Admiralty building with the spire of James Gibbs’ Saint Martin-in-the-Fields beyond, New Horse Guards and the Treasury, also designed by William Kent and partly concealed by the houses of Downing Street on the right. The houses in Downing Street were designed by Sir Christopher Wren and No. 10 became the official residence of the British Prime Minister and No. 11 that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1735, as they still are today.
Much published and included in the 2006 exhibition Canaletto in England. A Venetian Artist Abroad, 1746-1755 at Dulwich Picture Gallery and then Yale Center for British Art, this impressive painting is not only a great work by the master Canaletto, but also an important historical record of one of Britain’s most-visited and recognisable landmarks.
A view of the Grand Canal in Venice holds the record for the highest price paid for a work by the master. It sold for £18.5 million at Sothebys. Prior to the sale, the Old Horse Guards from St James’s Park another view of London – which was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1992 for £9.2m – was the most expensive Canaletto. This painting in Vienna is expected to reach a far higher price than the estimate.