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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s London 20th Century Italian Art Auction

Following the tremendous success of Sotheby’s 20th Century Italian Art Sale last October, which was 94.2% sold by value and achieved the second highest total* for a sale in this category at Sotheby’s, the forthcoming auction on Friday, October 16, 2009 is set to include 33 works in a variety of media by leading Modern and Contemporary Italian artists. The sale will include pieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi, Marino Marini, Lucio Fontana, Salvatore Scarpitta and Alighiero Boetti and is estimated to realize in excess of £5.7 million.

From a private European Collection, Giorgio de Chirico’s (1888–1978) oil on canvas Interno con frutta is the star lot of the auction. Painted during de Chirico’s stay in Paris in the 1920s, the painting is a stunning and monumental example of the ‘Classical’ period of his art. Although he treated this subject earlier in his career, particularly between 1912 and 1915, it was really during the 1920s that still-life flourished in de Chirico’s oeuvre. In the present composition, the bust and fruit which appear to rest on a tabletop occupy an otherwise plain room, while the interior is invaded by the ruins of a classical temple seen through the opening in the wall. The rationale behind these enigmatic groupings of seemingly mundane objects was the artist’s wish to uncover the poetic and metaphysical possibilities that lay beneath the surface of everyday reality. Images of classical sculpture and architecture are a recurrent motif in de Chirico’s art, often juxtaposing remnants of antiquity with contemporary settings, and imbuing his compositions with a timeless quality. Interno con frutta has remained in the same collection since it was acquired in the early 1970s and is estimated at £900,000-1,200,000.

Emilio Vedova
Emilio Vedova’s (1919-2006) Per la Spagna, which has remained off the market for over 30 years, is estimated at £350,000-450,000. Photo: Sotheby’s

A further important highlight of the Modern section of the sale is the hand-painted and chiseled bronze sculpture, Piccolo Cavaliere by Marino Marini (1901-1980). Executed in 1950, Piccolo Cavaliere is a prime example of Marini’s most celebrated theme – the horse and rider – adorned with a uniquely finished surface and hand painted by the artist in shades of red, yellow and green. Capturing the movement of the two figures in its most dramatic moment, when the rider begins his inevitable fall, the present work exemplifies Marini’s dynamic renderings of this theme that characterized his art throughout the 1950s. Marini was drawn not to the refinement of Hellenistic sculpture, but to the rougher, more energetic expression of the Archaic period in Greece and Etruscan sculpture in Italy, and the intensity of expression in the present work points to the influence of Picasso, whose Guernica had the most lasting effect on Marini. Of the six bronze casts of this work, two are in public museums (Nationalgalerie in Berlin and Fondazione Marino Marini in Pistoia) – the example offered for sale is estimated at £600,000-800,000.

The sale will also include a group of three works on paper by Marino Marini, which come from a private European collection. The mother of the present owner, who was a friend of the artist, was given the works directly by Marini in the early 1950s and the pieces have remained in the same family collection since then. Dealing with his favorite subjects of horse riders and jugglers, these works carry estimates ranging from £45,000-60,000 up to £80,000-120,000.

The oil on canvas Natura morta painted in 1962 by Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) will also be offered for sale and comes from a private Italian collection. The painting reflects the artist’s continuous and devoted search for beauty and harmony in everyday objects. Renowned for his eloquent, disciplined compositions of bottles, bowls and pitchers, Morandi was preoccupied with the interior reality that resides behind familiar appearances. Between 1960 and 1962 he executed several oils and watercolors depicting the tall pitcher, which dominates in the present composition. The inclusion of this new object reflects the artist’s tirelessly inventive approach within the still-life genre to which he remained devoted. The bold outline and dark color of the pitcher introduced a new range of pictorial and spatial possibilities, and a departure from the softer treatment of the earlier depictions of bottles. The painting is estimated at £250,000-350,000.

Among the Contemporary pieces in the sale White Concetto Spaziale by Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) is the highlight. The work comes from the Olii series and is estimated at £350,000-450,000. The surface of the painting is made up of thick white oil paint upon which the artist has made a series of sweeping gestures and pierced three holes. Created in 1961, the work combines elements of sculpture and painting and represents Fontana’s ground breaking achievements in Spatialism. The thickness of the oil paint means that the artist has been able to raise the paint around the holes before it was dry to add a sense of depth, movement and dynamism. These holes, like the slashes in the Tagli series, the addition of glass pebbles in the Murano series and the punctured canvasses of the Buchi series, extend the boundaries of the painting.

The sale will also feature an important group of works by Salvatore Scarpitta (1919-2007), which were acquired direct from the artist in New York by two collectors almost 30 years ago. As well as having impeccable provenance the three works by the artist have never been seen in public before now. The two collectors, Gerardus Widdershoven and Nicholas Howey were great friends with Scarpitta and as such had an enormous insight into his revolutionary output. Vulcania, Tocagliolo and Iron Gate – each part painting and part sculpture – all date from 1959 and 1960 – the pinnacle of his career and a period in which he had moved away from the loosely wrapped bandages in favor of glue soaked elastic bandages which injected a sense of tension into the works. From the mid fifties onwards Scarpitta embraced more abstract works over figurative representations. Scarpitta was one part of a dynamic young generation of artists who had survived the war and who were now keen to explore the possibilities of a new form of artistic discourse. Illustrated left is Vulcania, in bandage and mixed media on canvas mounted on board, which spearheads the group and is estimated at £150,000-200,000 (77 by 72.4cm). Tocagliolo, in bandage and mixed media on board, is estimated at £100,000-150,000 (52 by 66.7cm) and Iron Gate, in bandage and mixed media on canvas mounted on board, carries an estimate of £70,000-90,000 (30.5 by 39cm).

The oil on linen work The Black Rose by Jannis Kounellis (b.1936) was executed in 1967, after two years of inactivity and is estimated at £200,000-300,000. The work, measuring 150 by 130cm, stunningly testimonies Kounellis’s return to artistic creativity and his crucial role within the development of the Arte Povera movement. In The Black Rose Kounellis magisterially creates a mysterious ambiguity between the elegant beauty and inner simplicity of the rose and its unusual black color. In this same defining year, Kounellis had created Margherita di Fuoco (Burning Daisy) where a daisy made of iron spurted a flame from its centre. In both works, Kounellis opened a dialogue between living beings and a surreal poetical vision of reality. Standing as a monument to Kounellis’s creative universe, The Black Rose was among the first compositions to herald this radical shift towards Arte Povera’s practices and can be seen as a truly breakthrough work.

One of the most important works from the career-defining year of 1969, Planisfero Politico by Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994) represents the genesis of Boetti’s paramount Mappa series. Aesthetically beautiful, brilliantly conceptual and politically engaged, Planisfero Politico marks the culmination of Boetti’s artistic output by condensing Arte Povera practices with Boetti’s distinctive lyrical experimentation. In the present work Boetti has taken a printed world map and colored each country in felt-tip pen with their respective flags, developing a precise gesture that was to become the signature technique of his later drawings. Fascinated by classifying alterations in political geography, which he interpreted as a human desire to demarcate the earth, Boetti went on to expand the concept of Planisfero Politico into his world-renowned series of embroidered Maps. This series would bear witness to every change that affected countries, their borders and their flags and provides an extraordinary account of political geography from 1971 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the historic dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1969 when Planisfero Politico was executed, Boetti felt the political tension generated by the Cold War and translated the fear of Western countries towards the Soviet Union by coloring it with an overwhelming red. The present work embodies Boetti’s artistic evolution beyond Arte Povera and his fascination with cultural ‘otherness’, which the artist filters through his conceptual understanding of fate and time. It is estimated at £220,000-260,000.

The oil on canvas Composizione by Afro (1912-1976) was executed in 1957 and is one of the finest examples of Afro’s signature style of lyrical abstraction, and is estimated at £250,000-350,000. At the time of this work’s creation Afro was at the peak of his artistic maturity and career, having won the prize for the Venice Biennale in 1956 and recently been commissioned to work on the mural Il Giardino della Speranza (Garden of Hope) alongside Arp, Miró, Calder, Moore and Picasso for the new Unesco Headquarters in Paris. By experimenting with more spontaneous and less contrived gestures, Composizione represents an extraordinary example of his poetic evolution through an emotive comprehension of Abstract Expressionism, which became for him both an inspiration and a challenge. In this exceptional work from the most important period for the artist, Afro achieves the harmonious tension and chromatic balance sought throughout his career.

Emilio Vedova’s (1919-2006) Per la Spagna, which has remained off the market for over 30 years, is estimated at £350,000-450,000. Beautifully chaotic and compositionally dense, Per la Spagna is one of the most resolved exemplars of Emilio Vedova’s celebrated abstract paintings. Vedova expressed his condemnation of the intolerant authoritarian regime with the Per la Spagna series through an Abstraction that is both visually energetic and politically engaged. In the Per la Spagna series, executed in 1962 – the height of his career – once the artist was back in Venice, Vedova condensed this rediscovered love of baroque with his radical political views. Per la Spagna is an outstanding example of the eponymous and distinguished series and represents the culmination of the artist’s career, in which the spontaneity of his Abstract paintings perfectly merges with his political engagement.