LONDON—Christie’s Italian art sale was almost exclusively focused on Postwar Italian art and realized £17.5 million ($27.7 million) against a £15.7 million/22.6 million estimate, with 33 or 70 percent of 47 lots selling.
The outstanding results were for two paintings by the self-taught, short-lived artist Domenico Gnoli, for whom prices have been escalating recently. Last summer, Christie’s London set a record for Gnoli when Branche de Cactus, 1967 sold for £1 million ($1.5 million) against a £280,000/350,000 estimate. At this sale, a new record of £2.3 million ($3.7 million) was set when an Italian-speaking phone bidder bought Female Bust from the Back, 1965, against a £500,000/700,000 estimate. As a measure of the increase in Gnoli prices, Christie’s also offered his smaller 1965 painting, Pellicia (Fur), previously sold at Sotheby’s Italian sale in October 2005 for £187,200 ($327,600), with a £250,000/350,000 estimate, which it surpassed to sell for £881,250 ($1.4 million) to a phone bid through Christie’s Milan expert Giulio Sangiuliano.
A second record was set for Arnaldo Pomodoro’s large bronze Disco, 1986, which sold to a phone bidder against London-based dealer Daniele Pescali, for £505,250 ($797,000) on an estimate of £350,000/550,000.
Thirty-four percent of buyers at the sale were Italian, said Christie’s, compared to 28 percent from the rest of Europe, 24 percent from the U.S., and a significant 4 percent from Asia, including China.
The top lot, Piero Manzoni’s pleated Achrome, 1959, sold for £3.3 million ($5.2 million), compared with an estimate of £2.2 million/2.8 million, to Sangiuliano’s phone bidder, who Christie’s said was not Italian. Another Manzoni Achrome,1957–58, fell to a bid through Christie’s New York contemporary specialist Amy Cappellazzo for £881,250 ($1.4 million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million.
There was interest from Chinese bidders in the still life paintings of Giorgio Morandi, with one Chinese phone bidder underbidding a 1954 work that sold for £959,650 ($1.5 million) on an estimate of £350,000/650,000, and buying another 1958 work for £421,250 ($664,000) against an estimate of £250,000/550,000.
Trade bidders in the room were largely unsuccessful. London’s Alma Luxembourg was an underbidder on Gnoli’s Pellica while her mother Daniella Luxembourg was a bidder on Jannis Kounellis’s letter painting, Untitled, 1960, which sold for £577,250 ($909,746) on an estimate of £300,000/500,000. New York’s Abigail Asher and Milan’s Giulio Tega both underbid Lucio Fontana’s colored glass painting, Concetto Spaziale, 1953, which sold for £657,250 ($1 million) on an estimate of £400,000/600,000, and London’s Benjamin Brown was successful in securing Fontana’s painted terracotta, Concetto Spaziale, 1951–52, for £91,250 ($143,800) on an estimate of £80,000/120,000. However, three other Fontana pieces, with estimates ranging from £400,000/2 million, failed to sell.
Private Italian Collection Fuels Sotheby’s $34M Sale
Sotheby’s £21.6 million ($34 million) 20th-century Italian art sale on Oct. 13 was a record for any sale in this category and outperformed its contemporary art sale by coming in close to the upper end of the £15.8 million/21.7 million presale estimate.
Thirty-six of the works were from an anonymous, private, Italian family collection assembled in the last 30 years, which realized £10.7 million ($16.8 million) against an estimate of £7 million/9.8 million. These included the top lot, Alberto Burri’s Combustione legno, 1957, which sold for a record £3.2 million ($5 million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million, Francesco Lo Savio’s Spazio Luce (Monocromo Giallo), 1959, which sold for a record £229,250 ($360,000) on an estimate of £50,000/70,000, and Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Muro, 1967, which sold for a record £553,250 ($868,600) compared with an estimate of £300,000/400,000.
U.S. collectors accounted for two top lots from the collection, buying Manzoni’s pleated Achrome, ca. 1959, for £1.1 million ($1.7 million) compared with an estimate of £700,000/1 million, and Morandi’s Natura Morta, 1948-49, for £690,850 ($1.1 million), which was estimated at £600,000/800,000.
Bidders in the room for works from this collection included Daniella Luxembourg, who bought Enrico Castellani’s Superficie angolare rossa, 1963, for £313,250 ($491,800) against an estimate of £220,000/280,000, Brown, who underbid Afro’s abstract painting, L’Ucello di fuoco, 1957, and Christie’s director Hugues Joffre, who bought Luciano Fabro’s Corona d’alloro-Facsimile, 1969, for £277,250 ($435,280) on an estimate of £120,000/180,000.
The collection was not a white glove affair however. A Mappa, 1983, by Alighiero Boetti did not meet the £700,000/1 million estimate, making it the second, big unsold piece for Boetti that week (see story, page 4), with observers saying that the background color was too pale and therefore less commercial than other Mappa embroidered tapestries. Works by the Italian “transavangardia” were also less sought after as examples by Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente went unsold.
In the mixed-owner section of the sale, a 1916 Futurist drawing by Gino Severini, Train Arrivant à Paris—a study of a completed painting in the Tate collection, and a rarity for the market outside Italy—sold for £735,650 ($1.2 million), compared with an estimate of £500,000/700,000, setting a record for a work on paper by the artist.
Buyers in the room for this section were Brown, who bought Afro’s L’Approdo, 1963, for £193,250 ($303,400) on an estimate of £150,000/200,000, Laetitia Catoir of the Blain/Southern Gallery, who bought Giulio Paolini’s Equivalenza, 1975, for £109,250 ($171,500) compared with an estimate of £90,000/120,000, and London-based dealer Helly Nahmad, who snapped up Morandi’s Natura Morta, 1963, for £397,250 ($623,680) compared with an estimate of £380,000/450,000.
This part of the sale also saw two works by Fontana—whose market is typically very solid—go unsold with estimates ranging from £500,000/800,000. But, with 19 works by Fontana in the Italian sales that week, dealers said that that there were simply too many on offer.