Marino Marini - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, April 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    'The whole history of humanity and nature lies in the figure of the horse and rider.' —Marino MariniHailing from the collection of the esteemed architect and interior design pioneer Florence Knoll, Piccolo cavaliere is an exquisite example of Marino Marini’s singular sculptural practice. Throughout his career, Marini was almost exclusively focused on the investigation of the human condition, as evinced by the relationship between the horse and his mount. The artist’s early explorations of the form exhibited a rounded modelling, manifesting the mutually beneficial symbiosis between man and beast that was so prominent in Etruscan sculpture. Following the Second World War, Marini’s faith in the direction of humanity was shaken to its core; as a result, his horse and rider began taking on sharply angular forms, the rider more often than not in the process of being foisted from his perch.


    Portrait of American architect and furniture designer Florence Knoll Bassett as she sits on the edge of a table with a book of fabric swatches in front of her, 1961.  Image: Ray Fisher/The LIFE Images Collection, Getty Images.
    Portrait of American architect and furniture designer Florence Knoll Bassett as she sits on the edge of a table with a book of fabric swatches in front of her, 1961. Image: Ray Fisher/The LIFE Images Collection, Getty Images.


    In the present work, executed at the height of Marini’s career, the forms of the horse and the rider retain their rounded naturalism, yet the two protagonists display a few signs of change characteristic of Marini’s stylistic evolution. While the rider leans backwards and extends his arms horizontally, the horse stiffens its body, its neck outstretched in tension. Rendered with closely spaced marks, striations and chisel strokes, Piccolo cavaliere reflects Marini’s raw and visceral vision of a symbiotic and deeply animated relationship between an animal and its leader. Evidencing its importance as a key example of Marini’s study of the theme, Piccolo cavaliere echoes the sculptural shapes and gestures of the artist’s comparable — and iconic — thematic formulation The Angel of the City, residing in The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.


    Marino Marini sculpture at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice Italy, November 2015. Image: Archimage / Alamy Stock. Photo. © DACS 2021.
    Marino Marini sculpture at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, November 2015. Image: Archimage / Alamy Stock. Photo. © DACS 2021.


    The Horse

    'The nature of the relations which have existed for so long between men and horses has been greatly changed during the last half century: the horse has been replaced in its economic and military functions by the machine. It can even be said that, for the majority of our contemporaries, the horse has acquired a mythical character […], transformed into a kind of dream, into a fabulous animal.' —Marino MariniThe subject of the horse bore particular significance for Marini over the course of his career. First, the artist became fascinated with the subject’s ubiquity in the history of art, spreading across all cultures and mediums. Then, he began attending to the creature’s evolving status in the modern world, specifically after the two World Wars, which spurred a different rapport to animals — namely animals of war. After WWII, the retreating German army in Italy was dependent upon requisitioned horse transport — a process whereby horses suffered terribly from the bombs and bullets of the advancing Allied liberators. From a train, Marini witnessed the agonising sight of a stricken horse rearing in terror. Thence, he ruptured the classical equilibrium of his sculptural practice and began to depict the rider as increasingly imperilled on his mount. What had been the embodiment of triumph and success was gradually transformed to an image of rupture, discord, and defeat; the monumental solidity that characterised his earlier works was replaced by a sense of climax and crisis. The artist wrote that his sculptures of the period were ‘the result of a sad period which Italy passed through during the War', describing them as 'enclosed in geometrical lines, […] very precise in tragic and human significance’.1


    Pablo Picasso, Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-1906, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Image: Bridgeman Images. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2021.
    Pablo Picasso, Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-1906, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: Bridgeman Images. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2021.


    A Breath of Humanity


    Yet, despite the inherent tension emanated by the sculptural scene in Piccolo cavaliere — and the lone rider’s precarious seat on the back of his horse — the two sculpted figures seem to fuse together as a single, amalgamated entity. Wrought from the same material, they symbolise physical and spiritual union, wonderfully summarising Marini’s ‘search for a combination of bodies in space’.2 Emanating the poetic potential located at the threshold of hope and despair, tragedy and humanity, Piccolo cavaliere is a tale of life and love, mirroring the eternal soul of its maker.


    Looking at Piccolo cavaliere

  • An Introduction to Florence Knoll


    Paul Makovsky is a writer based in New York City. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Contract Magazine, a publication dedicated to architecture and design. Makovsky has curated countless exhibitions about art and design, including 'Knoll Textiles: 1945- 2010' at the Bard Graduate Center, and was a contributor to the accompanying catalogue published by Yale University Press. He was a close friend of Florence Knoll Bassett and is currently writing a biography of her life and work.


    The present work, Piccolo Cavaliere, in the Knoll Showroom in 1951.
    The present work, Piccolo cavaliere, in the Knoll Showroom in 1951. Image Courtesy Knoll Archive..

    Florence Knoll Bassett (née Schust), an architect and pioneer of modern interior design, died in 2019 at 101. A true visionary, 'Shu'—as she was affectionately called by those who knew her well—was one of the most influential architects and designers of post-war America, yet her mark on modern design transcends any one of these fields. Her career is inextricably linked with Knoll, Inc., the furniture company founded by Hans Knoll, who later became her husband. During the 1940s, she worked with designers like Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, and George Nakashima to create designs that fulfilled a need for modern interiors, and along the way produced innovative, high-quality furniture classics that are still relevant today.


    Born to a baker in Saginaw, Michigan in 1917, Shu was beset by tragedy throughout her early life after becoming an orphan at 14. She ended up at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan during the 1930s, where she was taken under the wing of the Saarinen family and was exposed to the importance of the overlapping fields of art, craft, and design. Later in Chicago, she was introduced to a rationalist design approach with Mies van der Rohe and received her Bachelor of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1941. She started moonlighting for Hans Knoll as a draftsman and eventually joined his company as the director of the Knoll Planning Unit, later becoming partner and co-owner.


    mage Courtesy Knoll Archive.
    Image Courtesy Knoll Archive.

     Shu transformed the field of 'interior design,' which in the 1950s was almost completely dominated by men, and collaborated with the most important mid-century modern architects, including Philip Johnson, Gordon Bunshaft and Marcel Breuer. Her showrooms for Knoll became laboratories for contemporary design on how we could live and work, and came to represent her signature 'Knoll look' that would epitomize the style of the 1950s. Her location at 575 Madison Avenue was one of the first to incorporate contemporary art, and included pieces from artists she had personal friendships with. She developed her appreciation of Paul Klee from her mentor Mies can der Rohe, who at the time had a large collection of Klees, and when a group of works from the artist didn’t sell in her showroom, she purchased all of them. Shu visited Black Mountain College to see the painter and teacher Josef Albers, from whom she said she learned about color, and later worked with his wife Anni Albers to develop textiles for the Knoll line.


    Image Courtesy Knoll Archive.
    Image Courtesy Knoll Archive.

    After Hans Knoll died in a car crash in 1955, Shu became president of the company, and very often public art was integrated into her large projects. In 1955, while Shu was designing the interiors for the Bank of the Southwest in Houston, she met the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo and remembered him coming to visit her with a small model of the mural that was going to be installed in the bank and today is considered to be one of his finest mural works. For many years, her Tamayo painting of watermelon slices was the first thing a visitor was greeted by when they visited her home.


    In 1958, Shu—by then the single most powerful figure in the field of modern design—married bank executive Harry Hood Bassett and eventually settled in Miami, where she would go on to design commercial Miami interiors in addition to several private residences. Hood Bassett was an important civic leader in Miami, and the corporate art collection that was developed for the Southeast First National Bank became one of the best in the country.


    Image Courtesy Knoll Archive.
    Image Courtesy Knoll Archive.

    At the height of her career, and after designing thousands of office interiors, she resigned from Knoll in 1965. At only 48 years old, she had profoundly influenced post–World War II design by defining the look for corporate interiors during the 1950s and 1960s and promoting the 'open office' workspace. She is one of the most influential architects and designers of post-war America, and she made designers like Saarinen and van der Rohe famous for their furniture—designs that are today considered classics (along with her own pieces)—and still being used in contemporary interiors. She had a curatorial eye for identifying talent and great works of art that she integrated both in her showrooms and in her homes.


    Shu was of the belief that art was to be lived with and enjoyed on a daily basis, rather than something kept hidden away in storage. Now, here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share in the joy in the many memories that Shu experienced over an incredible life of art and design. After Shu resigned from Knoll, she became almost reclusive, rejecting most interviews and awards. However, she was a warm and caring individual with a dry sense of humor. When mid-century modern furniture was having a resurgence, she’d open up an auction catalogue with her furniture and her name in it, and jokingly say to me: 'You know, Paul, I’m an antique now.'


    1 Marino Marini, quoted in ‘Horseman’, Tate, August 2004, online.
    2 Marino Marini, quoted in Herbert Read, Patrick Waldberg & Gualtieri di San Lazzaro, Marino Marini, Complete Works, Milan, 1970, p. 489.

    • Provenance

      Curt Valentin, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner by 1951

    • Exhibited

      London, Hanover Gallery, Marino Marini, 3 May - 16 June 1956, no. 11 (another example exhibited and illustrated, n.p.)
      Rome, Palazzo Venezia, Mostra di Marino Marini, 10 March - 10 June 1966, no. 46, fig. 25, p. 38 (another example exhibited and illustrated, n.p.)

    • Literature

      Franco Russoli, Marino Marini: Painting and Drawings, London, 1965, no. 4 (another example illustrated; titled Equestrian Composition)
      Giovanni Caradente, Marino Marini, I Maestri della scultura, Milan, 1966, pl. XVII (another example illustrated; further illustrated on the front cover)
      Alberto Busignani, Marino Marini, I maestri del Novecento, Florence, 1968, no. 25 (another example illustrated)
      Abraham Marie Hammacher, Marino Marini: Sculpture, Painting, Drawing, London, 1970, no. 132, pp. 132, 321 (another example illustrated, p. 132)
      Patrick Waldberg, Herbert Read and G. Di San Lazzaro, Complete Works of Marino Marini, Milan, 1970, no. 254, p. 361 (another example illustrated, p. 360)
      Alberto Busignani, Marini, London, 1971, pl. 25, p. 87 (another example illustrated, n.p.)
      Carlo Pirovano, Marino Marini Scultore, Milan, 1972, no. 108 (another example illustrated, n.p.)
      Mercedes Precerutti Garberi, Marino Marini alla Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Milano, Milan, 1973, no. S 11, n.p. (another example illustrated)
      Mercedes Precerutti Garberi, Marino Marini, Guida al Museo, Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Milano, Milan, 1984, no. S 26, p. 162 (another example illustrated)
      Sam Hunter, Marino Marini: The Sculpture, New York, 1993, pp. 50, 221 (another example illustrated, pp. 50-51)
      Marco Meneguzzo, Marino Marini: Cavalli e cavalieri, Milan, 1997, no. 49, p. 217 (another example illustrated)
      Marco Meneguzzo, Marino Marini: Il Museo alla Villa Reale di Milano, Milan, 1997, no. 11, p. 21 (another example illustrated, n.p.)
      Giovanni Carandente, Marino Marini, Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculptures, Milan, 1998, no. 328, p. 231 (another example illustrated)

Making Modern: Property from the Collection of Florence Knoll Bassett


Piccolo cavaliere

stamped with the artist's initials and foundry mark 'M.M. FONDERIA D'ARTE MILANO M.A.F.' on the base
painted and hand-chiselled bronze with brown and green patina
45.4 x 21.6 x 45.7 cm (17 7/8 x 8 1/2 x 18 in.)
Executed in 1949, this work is from an edition of 6. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondazione Marino Marini and recorded in the archive under no. 376.

Full Cataloguing

£300,000 - 400,000 ‡♠

Sold for £352,800

Contact Specialist


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021