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Gates of Venice (View of the Venetian lagoon with the Tower of Marghera)

Gates of Venice (View of the Venetian lagoon with the Tower of Marghera)

oil on wood panel
24.3 × 39.9 cm
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1927
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International

Collection of Paul Jean Cels (c. 1886–1917), Brussels, Belgium and Magill, South Australia, before 1917[i]; by whom deposited at Adelaide Bank, Adelaide, 1917; Estate of Paul Jean Cels, administered by the Public Trustee of South Australia, until 1919; from where claimed by Peter Mackenzie Abercrombie (d. 1944)[ii], Walkerville, Adelaide, 1919[iii]; his collection, Adelaide and Hobart, 1919–27; from whom purchased, on the advice of Bernard Hall, for the Felton Bequest, 1927.

[i] Cels, a noted connoisseur and collector, was an unfortunate victim of enemy poison gas during a battle near Ypres in the First World War. On being discharged from service on medical grounds, he was encouraged to relocate to Australia to allow his lungs to recuperate in the better-quality air. Sadly, not long after arriving, he died in November 1917. The majority of his art collection, stuck in Sydney due to a coal strike, arrived shortly after his death and was subsequently exhibited at the Art Gallery of South Australia at the behest of the Public Trustees, the Estate administrators. Bernard Hall, then director of the NGV, was asked to provide advice on the collection. After a period of consideration amid calls for the Gallery to acquire paintings from the Cels collection, it was shipped en masse to London for auction by Christie’s, 19 November 1920. See ‘Old Masters Needed: Our Art Gallery Condemned’, in The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Friday 8 June 1917, p. 6,, ‘Cels Art Collection’ in The Advertiser, Adelaide, Tuesday 5 March 1918, p. 9,, and ‘Cels Art Collection’ in The Register, Adelaide, Friday 1 March 1918, p. 4,

[ii] Abercrombie was born in Scotland and arrived in Australia in 1889. He was Manager of the National Australia Bank branches in the Victorian towns of Cobden and Sale before relocating to Adelaide in 1917 to become the Manager of the South Australian branches of the NAB. He later became Tasmanian State Manager of the NAB 1924–26, and lived in Hobart until his death in 1944. See ‘Personal’ in The Mercury, Hobart, Friday 16 February 1923, p. 4,

[iii] “In the Civil Court on Tuesday (before Mr Justice Poole) a matter referred from chambers came on for hearing. The question was whether the public Trustee would be justified in admitting the claim of Peter Mackenzie Abercrombie…to two paintings, free of death duties… out of the estate of the late Jean Paul Cels [sic], of Magill…One of the paintings was a marine subject and the other a small portrait of a woman’s head…” According to the reminder of the article, the paintings were apparently a gift from Cels to Abercrombie. See ‘A question of Gift: Two paintings involved,’ in Daily Herald, Adelaide, Wednesday 29 October 1919, p.3,

Virtually all paintings by the prolific eighteenth century Italian artist Francesco Guardi are views and evocations of his native Venice. His works are comparable with those by his more famous counterpart Antonio Canaletto who created majestic images of the canals and famous vistas of the splendid buildings that dot this unique city. Of the two artists, however, it is perhaps Guardi who looked more to the more intimate views of places around Venice that were not so picturesque and familiar to both visitors and his patrons. A perfect case in point is this beguiling and intriguing painting of a less well known area of the lagoon. The tower of Malghera that dominates this painting was part of ancient fortifications that lay near Mestre, in a sparsely populated area of Venice. They became redundant in the nineteenth century and were demolished. Furthermore, the buildings in this painting are secondary to the vast areas of sky and water that are barely punctuated with the sliver of land that Guardi has depicted. This painting is more a study of the natural setting that the man-made city of Venice occupies than the city itself. Herein lies one of the principal points of departure between Canaletto and Guardi. The latter focuses very much on the atmosphere of the city which he captures using a blurred and far less refined and articulate brush-stroke than did Canaletto. For those qualities alone, Guardi’s work has been compared with that of the French Impressionist artists and that of James McNeill Whistler. Also, many of Guardi’s later works are quite small in size, which reinforces the intimacy of these quite intense studies of nature.  This area of Venice clearly appealed to Guardi as there are at least two other autograph paintings depicting a similar scene. The version in the National Gallery in London is about the same height but is much wider. Both include the fishing boat on the left of the work with the figure in the same pose. For the version in London, the entire boat is seen yet only two-thirds of the boat is visible in the Melbourne painting. Therefore it is possible that the panel in Melbourne has been cut down on the left.