Canaletto Pair to Bring Huge Sum

Two paintings by Canaletto that have been owned by a succession of bankers are estimated to sell for as much as 12 million pounds ($19.5 million) at auction.

Wealthy collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are keeping an acquisitive eye on these two important artworks.

The identically sized views of the St. Mark’s Square ("Piazza San Marco," shown here) and the Rialto Bridge in Venice dating from between 1738 and 1742 have been entered as one lot by HSBC Holdings Plc’s corporate art collection into Sotheby’s Dec. 4 Old Masters sale in London, the auction house said in an e-mailed release.

Canaletto (1697-1768) was the most famous view-painter of 18th-century Venice. Always prized by wealthy collectors, his works have attracted demand from Russian and Asian bidders at recent auctions, pushing up prices, dealers said.

“Russians like hanging old pictures on their walls, which sets them apart from most other nationalities,” the London-based dealer Charles Beddington said in an interview.

“These paintings are pretty nice examples from a popular period and they’re not highly priced,” said Beddington, who curated the 2010-2011 exhibition, “Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals,” at the National Gallery in London.

The ex-HSBC canvases have a low estimate of 8 million pounds, based on hammer prices. The valuation is less than the 8.5 million pounds with fees that was paid for the single Canaletto, ““The Molo, Venice, From the Bacino di San Marco,” at Christie’s International in London in July.

Banker Paintings

The paintings were owned in the 18th century by the self-made English banker John Furnell Tuffen.

They were bought by Edmond Safra, founder of Safra Republic Holdings SA, for 3.9 million pounds at Sotheby’s in London in 1997. The Geneva-based bank holding company and its assets -- which included these Canalettos -- were sold by Safra to HSBC in 1999. The Lebanese-born billionaire died in a house fire in Monaco in the same year.

Keen to exploit widening international interest in certain brand-name Old Masters, Sotheby’s will be previewing the paintings in Moscow and Hong Kong, as well as New York and London.

The auction record for Canaletto is 18.6 million pounds for “Venice, the Grand Canal, looking north-east from Palazzo Balbi to the Rialto Bridge,” at Sotheby’s London in 2005.