Giovanni Paolo Panini (Piacenza 1691-1765 Rome), A coastal scene, signed ‘I.P. Panini 1730’ (on the column fragment, lower left), oil on canvas, 40 ¾ x 50¾ in. (103.5 x 128.9 cm). Estimate $100,000 – $150,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015

Provenance: with David M. Koetser, New York, where acquired in 1959 by the Seattle Art Museum (Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund).


Literature: Art Quarterly, no. 22, Autumn 1959, p. 277, fig. p. 279.
Seattle Art Museum Guild, Engagegement Book, 1962.

Exhibited: Washington, D.C., Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Art for collectors: an exhibit under the auspices of the Reserve Board Club, First Floor, Board Building, 25 September 1977-17 November 1978.

Notes: This brightly colored harbor scene by Giovanni Paolo Panini portrays an imaginary Mediterranean seaport bustling with activity. At first glance, the sweeping architecture that fills the left side of the composition appears to be an invention – Panini was a practicing architect who, two years after completing this painting, would serve on the panel of judges for the design competition for the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano and in 1734 would design the chapel of Santa Teresa in the Roman Church of Santa Maria della Scala. Yet for the architecture in the Seattle Art Museum painting, Panini took inspiration from one of Rome’s most famous monuments: Gianlorenzo Bernini’s monumental Colonnade for St. Peter’s. Indeed, the majestic, sweeping rows of towering, Doric columns terminating in classical temple façades and surmounted by a balustrade with statuary is nearly identical to Bernini’s Baroque architectural masterpiece. As such, this painting is best understood as an early foray into a genre that Panini began to develop at the beginning of the 1730s, the capriccios of Roman monuments grouped together into imaginary landscapes, which were so avidly sought-after by visitors to Rome wishing to preserve the memory of their Grand Tour. Panini’s fascination with French painting from previous generations is reflected in his lyrical treatment of light, recalling the works of Claude Lorrain, as well as in his elegant figures who fill the foreground in a variety of poses, many of which recall the works of Antoine Watteau.

As David Marshall has observed, the present painting is one of the earliest known compositions of which Panini produced multiple versions. The artist’s first treatment of this scene appears to be the smaller version (85 x 111 cm.), signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘I.P.P., 1730’, which was offered at Sotheby’s, London, 1 November 1978, lot 47 (see F. Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e I fasti della Roma del ‘700, Rome, 1986, p. 332, no. 202). The ex-Sotheby’s painting appears from thte catalogue illustration to be slightly cropped in relation to the Seattle version: absent are the grassy area in the foreground and the final column and entablature at far left. While nearly all of the figures occupy identical positions in both paintings, Panini added three extra ships along the horizon in the Seattle version, and also repositioned the rightmost group of figures to accommodate the wider field of view. The elevated quality of the present painting suggests that it was Panini himself who expanded the composition, prominently signing his work to ensure his patron recognized its autograph status.

We are grateful to David R. Marshall for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs and for his assistance in cataloguing this painting (private communication, 7 November 2014).

Christie’s. OLD MASTER PAINTINGS PART I, 28 January 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza