Among his contemporaries in the landscape of Italian fashion, Valentino counted the Marquis Emilio Pucci and Salvatore Ferragamo, both of whom were gaining ground in the European and American markets. The twin passions for art and fashion were felt keenly by this generation of young designers, whose aesthetic sensibilities in the world of couture translated into a devotion to Italian art and collecting. Valentino himself sponsored the restoration of hand-embroidered tapestries and sixteenth-century frescoes at the Neapolitan convent of Santa Chiara. He housed part of his collection in his apartment at the Palazzo Cellamare adorning rooms already filled with elegant 1920-30s furniture. This collection featured works by Andy Warhol, who became a friend, Gino Severini, Giorgio de Chirico and Art Nouveau objects by René Lalique and Marius-Ernest Sabino. Valentino also filled his retail and manufacturing spaces with fine art and precious objects; the collection was to be experienced and enjoyed not only by himself but by those living and working around him. The designer had developed a firm friendship with dealer and curator Lucio Amelio, who exhibited international contemporary artists at his gallery in Naples. His friendship with Amelio proved to be a seminal one, whose patronage of exhibitions at the gallery was key to transforming the city into a bastion of the avant-garde landscape of the 1980s.
A celebrated designer and dedicated patron of the arts, Mario Valentino shaped a fashion empire from its beginnings as a local service for well-heeled Neapolitans into a global phenomenon and cultural legacy. From clothing collaborations with Paco Rabanne and Karl Lagerfeld to his work with iconic image-makers Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, Valentino ranks among one of the most beloved designers of the twentieth century.
Further works from the Mario Valentino collection will be offered in the following London auctions: Impressionist & Modern Art Evening and Day Sales on 19th and 20th June 2018, Contemporary Art Evening and Day Sales on 26th and 27th June 2018 and Surrealist Art Sale in February 2019.
Created in 1985 Vesuvius is one of only a handful of works from this small eponymous series by Andy Warhol. Enshrining the menacing energy of the iconic Neapolitan volcano, this painting purports the looming threat of annihilation in bold Pop art colour. In the present work a strident red volcanic eruption is set against bubble gum pink and bright turquoise plumes of smoke, while the dark silhouette of the volcano itself rises out of a field of emerald green. Unlike other series by the artist, the colour fields of the Vesuvius paintings were blocked in by hand, over which Warhol applied a black silkscreen image of his hand drawn rendering of this famous Neapolitan landmark at the moment of violent eruption. As the artist explained: "I painted each Vesuvius by hand, always using different colours so that they can give the impression of having been painted just one minute after the eruption" (Andy Warhol cited in: Exh. Cat., Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, Vesuvius by Warhol, 1985, p. 35). Acquired by the present owner from the eminent art dealer Lucio Amelio, this painting has remained in the same Neapolitan collection for over 30 years.
With its threat of impending destruction Vesuvius is laced with the theme of deathly tragedy that permeates Warhol's oeuvre. Revisiting the haunting contemplation of death so sensationally depicted in the Death and Disaster series of the 1960s, Warhol’s work of the 1980s offers a more profound reflection on mortality. Alongside the Vesuvius paintings, Warhol’s series of Crosses, Skulls and Guns reflect a heightened sense of the macabre. Indeed, similar to his Atomic Bomb of 1965, or his Most Wanted Men of 1964, we are not looking at death itself but at its imminence or threat; a spectre that always weighed heavily on the artist. As Warhol noted early in his career, "I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death" (Andy Warhol cited in: Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988-89 p. 19). In Vesuvius, Warhol increases the dial on his morbid preoccupations, dramatically presaging his own untimely demise two years later.
The Vesuvius series was conceived for Warhol’s solo exhibition at the prestigious Museo di Capodimonte in 1985 – a hallowed exhibition space usually reserved for Old Masters such as Titian and Caravaggio. In this way, the works were innately steeped in art historical import. Furthermore, to take on this famous volcano as a subject was to take up the mantle of a long line of artists who had historically engaged with its depiction. During the era of the Grand Tour in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the Volcano became a key trope to convey the awesome and sublime power of nature and was captured in paint by artists such as JMW Turner and Joseph Wright of Derby. In its high key palette of pink, turquoise and volcanic red, the present work can be interpreted as an idiosyncratically irreverent Warholian reinterpretation of this art historical legacy. In this respect, the Vesuvius series can be aligned with Warhol’s contemporaneous Art after Art: paintings of appropriated art historical masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Raphael, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and others. In these, Warhol certified the notion that artworks and iconic images were also party to the fame and celebrity that fascinated him endlessly.
The Museo di Capodimonte exhibition was organised following Warhol’s participation in a group show curated by the leading Neapolitan dealer, Lucio Amelio, some four years previously. Lucio Amelio commissioned several international artists including Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Keith Haring and Jannis Kounellis, to produce works for an exhibition entitled Terrae Motus, which was held in response to an earthquake in Empoli, just south of Naples. The show firmly placed Naples on the map of the contemporary art world and Warhol's experience of the city made a lasting impression on him. Through a typically Warholian confluence of death and art history, Vesuvius pays tribute to the totem of natural beauty and latent destruction that renders Naples an extraordinary and unique place.
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