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.”