Venetian masterpiece could save Suffolk church

08 March 2019

£500,000 painting to go on sale in Maastricht to help fund repairs to listed building

CHARLES BEDDINGTON FINE ART

The Grand Canal with San Simeone Piccolo and the Scalzi by Michele Marieschi (1710-44)

The Grand Canal with San Simeone Piccolo and the Scalzi by Michele Marieschi (1710-44)

A PAINTING by a contemporary of Canaletto, which was once dismissed as valueless, could raise up to £500,000 to fund urgent repairs to a historic Suffolk church.

For generations, the painting, which hung in the deanery of St Mary’s, Hadleigh, near Ipswich, was believed to be by the 18th-century Venetian artist himself; but, in the 1950s, the art historian W. G. Constable declared it to be a lesser work, worth only £150. Suspicions were raised during a recent routine insurance assessment, however, that the Venetian canal scene might still be valuable.

When a Mayfair-based expert, Charles Beddington, examined it, he immediately declared it to be by Michele Marieschi, Canaletto’s less well-known but highly collectable contemporary and rival.

He said: “As a Canaletto, it would have been worth several millions, but, as a Marieschi, it is still worth around £500,000. It’s pretty obviously by Marieschi. I could tell straight away: Marieschi is pretty different from Canaletto.”

Next week, he will take the painting to find a buyer at the European Fine Art Fair, which is being held at Maastricht, in the Netherlands, from 16 to 24 March.

The Rector of the Grade I listed St Mary’s, the Revd Jo Delfgou, said: “I am quite excited about the future. It would be really good to do something tangible with the money. We don’t know how much there will be: it depends on the art world, which can be quite fickle.

“The roof needs serious attention; the floor is a patchwork of repairs; the electrics need updating: we need to spend a lot of money to get things right — getting on for £1 million — but now we can get matching grants to do the work.

“We have a very forward-looking congregation; we hope to make it a more eco-sensitive church, and are very keen to develop projects with the community.”

Traditionally, the picture, The Grand Canal with San Simeone Piccolo and the Scalzi, was believed to be a gift from Canaletto when he stayed with the Rector of St Mary’s, the Revd Dr Thomas Tanner, in the mid-1700s. Dr Tanner was the son-in-law of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a wealthy artistic patron, who had already commissioned Gainsborough to paint the church. Mr Delfgou said: “There are stories that, when the Vicar went away, it was entrusted for safe-keeping to members of the parish, who slept with it under their beds.”

Mr Beddington said that he was surprised by Constable’s valuation. “But, after that, I don’t think the villagers thought much about it until they had problems with the upkeep of the church, and looked at selling it to keep the building together.

“It’s a fine painting in its own right. Having had it cleaned, it’s actually in rather good condition. Marieschi is quite popular with people who can’t afford Canalettos. He had a very short career — he died at 32 — and pictures by him, especially good ones, are fairly rare. I have always written that he would potentially have been quite strong competition for Canaletto, had he lived.”

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