Lot 24
  • 24

Alberto Burri

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Alberto Burri
  • Cretto
  • signed Burri, dated 76 and dedicated on the reverse
  • acrovinylic on polystyrene
  • 24 by 17cm.
  • 9 1/2 by 6 3/4 in.
  • Executed in 1976.


Private Collection, Rome (acquired from the artist in 1976. Sold: Sotheby’s, Milan, 22nd November 2011, lot 109)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri. Catalogo Generale, Città di Castello, 2015, vol. II, no. 1458, illustrated in colour p. 320; vol. VI, no. i.7667, illustrated in colour p. 215


Catalogue Note

Burri's Cretto, from 1976, is an exquisite example from the Cretti series that the artist first began in 1970. Having exploited the expressive possibilities of everyday and often impoverished materials such as burlap (sacchi), wood (legni) and iron (ferri), Burri turns to the primal materials of earth and water in this work. Beautifully composed of a virginal white surface and sculpted furrows, Cretto reveals the artist’s unique approach to materials, exhibiting his ability to transform these into a medium capable of expressing his powerful artistic vision. In combining zinc white, kaolin and vinyl glue, Cretto exposes an enigmatic surface of deep craquelure that echoes 'the timeless crackling of the earth in a dry river bed when the slow evaporation of water has robbed the earth of its viscous consistency and left it bereft of moisture' (Jan Butterfield, ‘Alberto Burri: Umbrian Echoes and Alchemical Implications,’ in Alberto Burri (exhibition catalogue), Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, 1982).

Before the Second World War, Burri, a student of medicine, did not envisage any artistic career. After being captured in Tunisia and interned in a prisoner of war camp, however, he returned to Italy with an inner necessity of exploring the possibilities of painting and abandoned a potentially secure career as a doctor. Painting represented for Burri a moment of catharsis, a response to his desire to overcome memories of the war by escaping into a creative dimension. Painting suddenly became essential to Burri's life and 'he created a new world of form' (Herbert Read quoted in Alberto Burri (exhibition catalogue), Hanover Gallery, London, 1960).

The Cretti series is thematically linked to Burri’s time in California and the American Southwest, and re-examines the uneven cracked surfaces of the Bianco series of the early 1950s.  Starting in the late 1960s the artist embarked on almost annual trips to Death Valley in Eastern California and other parts of the Southwest that proved to be inspirational. The cracked surfaces of dry earth in his photographs of Death Valley mirror the visual interests and formal choices in his works of the 1970s and 1980s.

Widely celebrated as a leading pioneer and one of the most influential Post-War Italian artists, Cretto epitomises Burri's revolutionary approach to material and his transformation of the concept of painting. So perfected was Burri’s process that despite the natural and evocative nature of the Cretti, he was able to control the entire surface, allowing cracking to appear only in designated areas. As such Cretto reaches a perfect equilibrium between the sensuality of texture, a precision of composition and the vitality of his materials. As J. J. Sweeney once commented: 'Burri is a poet, a surgeon who knows and feels with intense visualization what lies in the fleshy surface of his compositions, and an artist who is able to suggest this to the sympathetic observer" (J. J. Sweeney, Burri, Rome, 1955, p. 6).