The most famous angels of our days seem to be the two winged putti below Raphael's Sistine Madonna. They are almost half a millennium old. Their continuing success and present popularity are hard to explain. They combine the sacred with the profane, childish mischievousness with high art. They are easily reproducible and media-friendly. And they have in turn inspired similar angel pairs.
The Old Horse Guards building at the centre of this work was demolished shortly after Canaletto painted it, and replaced by the New Horse Guards, which was completed in 1753. It has convincingly been suggested that part of Canaletto's motivation in producing the picture was to record the view of a historic site prior to its alteration. He was to display similar instincts on other occasions.
This is, however, far from simply being a work of antiquarian interest. The painter has filled the scene with a variety of figures ranging from the regiment of the King's Life Guard's who drill in the background to the footmen at the right who beat a carpet, near to the entrance to Downing Street.
Signature: Not signed.
Provenance: This painting first appeared at an Amsterdam sale in 1810 with the attribution to Jan Vermeer van Delft. Subsequently, at two other sales, the same city, in 1811 and 1820. It was then sold at Christie's in London in 1853, passed through the hands of the art gallery Lawrie and Co., London, and finally the art gallery Knoedler, New York, from which it was finally acquired by H. C. Frick in 1901.
Owing to its very poor state of preservation, which has been remarked upon by C. Hofstede de Groot in 1899, it is difficult to determine whether we have here an old copy or an almost completely ruined and overpainted original. The best part of the painting is the still life. In the background, we find the Standing Cupid, which is already familiar to us from A Woman Asleep at Table. Hofstede de Groot complained in his above-mentioned publication that the bird cage and a violin with a bow on the rear wall were completely new. We still find the bird cage. Violin and bow have been since taken off.
In the composition we find a new twist - the interruption in the interaction of the two figures. The young girl looks out at the viewer, and takes time off from the making of music. It has been suggested that the Cupid on the wall conveys the emblematic meaning of unrequited love. Only the gentleman seems to be fully absorbed by his feelings, whereas the young woman appears distracted and inattentive. The treatment of light, falling in from the left, is also Vermeeresque.