Photo credit: The Cheltenham Trust and Cheltenham Borough Council
(b Venice, 5 Oct. 1712; d Venice, 1 Jan. 1793). Venetian painter, the best-known member of a family of artists. He is now famous for his views of Venice, indeed next to Canaletto he is the most celebrated view-painter (see veduta) of the 18th century, but he produced work on a great variety of subjects and seems to have concentrated on views only after the death of his brother Gianantonio (bapt. Vienna, 27 May 1699; d Venice, 22 Jan. 1760). Until then Francesco's personality was largely submerged in the family studio, of which Gianantonio was head and which handled commissions of every kind. Francesco's career was unsuccessful in worldly terms: he was still working for other artists when he was over 40, he never attracted the attention of foreign visitors in the way Canaletto did, and he died in poverty.
Recognition of his genius came in the wake of Impressionism, when his vibrant and rapidly painted views were seen as having qualities of spontaneity, bravura, and atmosphere lacking in Canaletto's sharply defined and deliberate works. Francesco was enormously prolific and his work is in many public collections in Italy, Britain, and elsewhere. Few works from the Guardi studio are signed, dated, or reliably documented, and there has been a good deal of scholarly controversy about certain works. The major problem concerns the authorship of paintings representing the Story of Tobit that decorate the organ loft of S. Raffaele in Venice. Critical opinion is divided as to whether these brilliant works, painted with brushwork of breathtaking freedom, are by Francesco or Gianantonio (there is dispute also over the dating), but if they are indeed by the latter, he too must rank as a major figure. Giambattista Tiepolo was married to the sister of the Guardi brothers, and it was possibly through his influence that Gianantonio became a founder member of the Venetian Academy in 1756. Francesco was not elected until 1784, during the presidency of his nephew Giandomenico Tiepolo. After Francesco's death, the studio was inherited by his son Giacomo Guardi (1764–1835), who produced a large number of Venetian views, mainly drawings.
Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)