An Insatiable Curiosity

An Insatiable Curiosity

On the Collection of Thomas B. Lemann, featuring works on offer in our ‘20th Century to Now’ London Auction.

On the Collection of Thomas B. Lemann, featuring works on offer in our ‘20th Century to Now’ London Auction.

Thomas B. Lemann at his home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo © Tabitha Soren 2023.

The year 1964 served as a significant milestone for Thomas Lemann in more ways than one. In his legal career, it was the culmination of his work on the Louisiana Trust Code, a landmark achievement in United States inheritance and tax law. On the personal side, it was the genesis of his fascination with — and lifelong passion for — collecting art, one which began in earnest after a trip to the 32nd Venice Biennale.

In an interview with the Louisiana Bar Foundation, Thomas Lemann stated that his drive to enter a career in law was based on his supposition that “law was going to be a lot like puzzles — [and he] was right.” As with the codes of law, the progression of art historical movements which Thomas followed, each intertwining and building upon one another, would serve as a different type of puzzle for Lemann to contemplate, one in which he would find solace and immense happiness.

A rendering of the interior atrium in Thomas Lemann’s New Orleans home featuring Martín Chirino's Cabeza Reclinada. El Grito I and Bernard Meadows' Seated Armed Figure.

Following his initial acquisitions in 1964, Lemann enthusiastically immersed himself in the international art community following the shifting trends and movements that emerged over the next half century. The connections between a diverse selection of figures — British Modernists such as Robert Adams and Bernard Meadows, French Surrealists Claude Lalanne and Niki de Saint Phalle, to American assemblage by Louise Nevelson — are reminiscent of pieces of a puzzle falling slowly into place. We see this unfold too, in a literal sense, in artists with whom Lemann took a particular fascination. Whether the deep carvings and slow movements of Pomodoro’s bronzes, or the subtle symbols and keys that Alan Davie leaves viewers to decipher, Lemann’s collection paints a portrait of an insatiable curiosity and his relentless pursuit of a never-ending puzzle.

Phillips will offer a curated selection from Mr. Lemann’s collection in our upcoming 20th Century to Now London sale. Further property will be sold across our New York 20th Century & Contemporary Art, New Now, Editions & Works on Paper, and Design Online auctions. Below, we highlight key works coming up in our 20th Century to Now auction in London on 30 June.


Martín ChirinoCabeza Reclinada. El Grito I, 1962. 20th Century to Now, London.

Acquired directly from the Spanish Pavilion at the 32nd International Venice Biennale, Martin Chirino’s Cabeza Reclinada. El Grito I (1962) is one of the most important works by the late sculptor to appear at auction. Additional examples by artists such as Bernard Meadows, Enrico Baj, Robert Jacobsen, Omar El-Nagdi, and George Zongolopoulos — all acquired directly from their respective exhibition pavilions at the Venice Biennale — will appear on the market for the first time in almost 60 years.

Tancredi ParmeggianiQuando Il Sole E’ Colorato, 1958. 20th Century to Now, London.

Beyond Venice, Mr. Lemann traveled extensively across the United States and Europe throughout the 20th century. Among the major paintings coming up for sale is Tancredi Parmegianni’s Quando Il Sole E’ Colorato (1958) which was purchased through Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan in 1966. Other highlights include Alan Davie’s Guessing Game (1970) and Mama Idol No. 3 (1973) acquired through Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Zurich in 1971 and 1976 respectively.

Arnaldo PomodoroPorte dell’Edipo, 1988. 20th Century to Now, London.

As he grew older, Thomas B. Lemann began to hone in on three particular artists — Louise Nevelson, Niki de Saint Phalle and Arnaldo Pomodoro — all of whom are represented extensively across our sales. Particular standouts include Pomodoro’s monumental Porte dell’Edipo (1988), as well as Louise Nevelson’s wonderful Untitled (1957).

Left: Niki de Saint Phalle, L'ange vase, 1993. 20th Century to Now, London. Right: Louise Nevelson, Untitled, 1957. 20th Century to Now, London.


Discover More from 20th Century to Now >