Lot 30
  • 30


1,200,000 - 1,600,000 GBP
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  • Salvatore Scarpitta
  • The Corn Queen
  • signed, titled and dated 1959 on the reverse
  • bandages and mixed media on canvas
  • 120.5 by 76 cm. 47 1/2 by 30 in.


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1960)
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Galleria Notizie, Turin (acquired from the above in 1972) 
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1975) 
Studio Guenzani, Milan
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in the mid-1990s)
Sotheby's, London, Italian Identity: An Important Private Collection, 13 October 2011, Lot 11 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, London (acquired from the above sale)
Christie's, New York, 13 May 2014, Lot 25 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


Radda in Chianti, Castello di Volpaia, Splendente: Salvatore Scarpitta, September 1992, p. 27, no. 8, illustrated in colour 
Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Salvatore Scarpitta, October 2012  -  February 2013, p. 132, illustrated in colour
New York, Luxembourg & Dayan, Salvatore Scarpitta: 1956 - 1964, October 2016 - January 2017, p. 12, illustrated in colour


Luigi Sansone, Salvatore Scarpitta: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 2005, p. 170, no. 238, illustrated


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly darker in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"[Scarpitta's] geometrization becomes evident in works like The Corn Queen, an anticipation of post-informel art, the need to reduce expression to its minimal extreme, that will become typical in the work of the next decade.  The invention of the wrapped canvases is the model for the surpassing of informalism. The sole canvas, not being covered with pigmentation anymore, above all tells us of a need for silence." Elena Pontiggia, 'Salvatore Scarpitta, The Uniqueness of Expression' in: Exh. Cat., Centro d'Arte Arbur, Scarpitta, 2000, pp. 85-86.

Salvatore Scarpitta's The Corn Queen belongs to the highest tier of the artist’s oeuvre and series of pioneering 'torn' paintings initiated in 1957. It was with this body of work that Scarpitta arrived at a form of absolute abstraction in which the canvas became the central focus of the work, rather than a surface to be worked upon. Created in 1959, The Corn Queen represents the climax of this series in its rigorously disciplined schema of interlacing bands of monochrome canvas loaded with resin and sand. Allied with groundbreaking contemporaries Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana, Scarpitta, through works such as the presentput forth a radical deviation from painterly convention, and in doing so forged a revolution in artmaking that would come to characterise an entire generation of artists emerging from the postwar political climate in Europe.

Born in New York in 1919, Scarpitta travelled to the country of his ancestral roots in 1937 to pursue a career as a painter. In 1957, Scarpitta's breakthrough followed two critically acclaimed solo shows at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan and at the Galleria La Taratuga in Rome; it was here that the first 'torn' paintings were exhibited. Having previously developed a painterly style inspired by Arshile Gorky and close in aesthetic to the contemporaneous abstraction of Afro, the new works signalled a minimal approach to the canvas as a three-dimensional art-object. No longer acting as a support, the stretcher became an armature around which swathes of monochrome torn canvas were rhythmically wrapped and woven as overlapping textural bandages. In describing his own method Scarpitta expressed a certain degree of separation from artistic control: "I didn't have a plan, I took the canvas, I cut it, reversed it and wrapped it around the frame" (Salvatore Scarpitta in conversation with Laura Cherubini in: Exh. Cat., Castello di Volpaia, Splendente, 1992, p. 17). While this dialogue with the surface of the canvas may be most famously associated with Fontana, there is evidence to suggest that Fontana's first Spatial Concept was preceded by a visit to Scarpitta's studio in 1957. Piero Dorazio later wrote of this event: "when Fontana came to Rome I took him to Salvatore's studio... The next year I went to visit Fontana and his studio was full of cavases with the famous slashes, which could only have been suggested by the swathing bands of Scarpitta" (Piero Dorazio, 'For Salvatore Scarpitta' in: Exh. Cat., Arbur, Centro d'Arte Arbur, Scarpitta, 2000, pp. 61-62). Scarpitta's involvement in the cultivation of a new artistic generation principally attributed to the pioneering work of Fontana and spearheaded by the Arte Povera movement, should therefore not be underplayed. 

Nonetheless, ostensibly appearing to presage the autonomous metaphysicality championed by Fontana and Manzoni, Scarpitta was uninterested in an intellectual anti-colourism and tautological detachment. Instead, the call for myth and tradition is evident in the titles of his works. In this regard, The Corn Queen, alongside Moby Dick, and The Flying Dutchman, both from 1958, evince a relationship with myth, tradition, and the great art of the past: the achromatic chiaroscuro of the weighted canvas swathes evoke the monumentality of marble statuary, whilst the bandaged modulations of light and shadow recall Leonardo's repeated studies of luminous folds of drapery, as well as the Flemish obsession with reproducing cloth realistically. Moreover, present in what Scarpitta identified as the "human content" of his work is an extraordinary tension: "His work is the reflection of man's condition in our times, it is the testimony of the continuous constrictions to which he is subjected, the constant obstructions set in his path and against all of which he must find a way of struggling" (Lorella Giudici, 'Salvatore Scarpitta's Art' in: ibid., p. 13). Akin to the reception of Burri's sutchered burlap Sacchi, these torn works evoke emotional wounds and scars testament to a post-traumatic response to the Second World War. As described by Elena Pontaggi, Scarpitta's bandaged canvases represent "a battle ground without the screaming voices" (Elena Pontiggia, 'Salvatore Scarpitta, The Uniqueness of Expression' in: ibid., p. 85).  Executed on a grand scale, The Corn Queen shows how Scarpitta explored the limits and pushed the portent of the canvas as a medium for artistic expression.