Renato Guttuso - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'For us today [realism] means reclaiming the most elementary means of figurative expression, to represent a reality that is clear and recognisable to all, and to express that reality in the most complete way.' —Renato GuttusoA testament to its arresting visual power and art historical importance, Renato Guttuso’s Aranceto Notturno comes to auction with exceptional provenance, coming directly from the highly distinguished collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


    Introducing Guttuso


    Renato Guttuso smoking, photographed by Mario De Biasi in the 1960s Image: akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio / Mario De Biasi, Artwork: © DACS, 2022
    Renato Guttuso smoking, photographed by Mario De Biasi in the 1960s Image: akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio / Mario De Biasi, Artwork: © DACS, 2022

    Known for his highly identifiable brand of expressionist realism, Renato Guttuso remains one of Italy’s most highly esteemed post-war painters, giving form to a generation’s struggles in the face of Fascist oppression and the destruction wrought by World War II. A committed communist and even elected to the senate for the Communist Party of Italy later in his life, Guttuso believed fervently in the social dimensions of art, of its power to reflect the lived reality of the working classes and to effect real political change.


    Growing up in the shadow of World War I, the southern Italy of Guttuso’s childhood was one marked by poverty and political upheaval, a stark social reality counterpointed against the richly saturated colours and abundance of natural beauty of everyday life in Sicily. Virulently anti-fascist, Guttuso’s depiction of sometimes politically incendiary subjects earned him a place with the Corrente group who ‘harboured a cultural resistance to the fascist regime that prefigured the armed resistance in which a number of its members would later participate.’i Veering away from the perceived elitism associated with abstraction, Guttuso developed his own, distinctive brand of realism, one which overlapped with the aims and execution of the dominant Novecento group, although he rejected their stricter neoclassicism in favour of a more expressionistic use of line and heavily saturated Mediterranean palette which would prove to be hugely influentially in shaping the artistic currents of Italian art in the immediate post-war period.


    Bold, brightly coloured and executed on a large scale, Aranceto Notturno is typical of the artist’s accessible style and his celebration of the landscape and everyday lives of southern Italy and its people. Although his name is often associated with his more overtly political canvases that draw heavily on Pablo Picasso’s Guernica in their stylised presentation of human vulnerability and suffering, Guttuso’s painterly foundations are rooted in his native landscape, the artist even commenting later in life that his deepest inspiration was found ‘in my childhood, my people, my peasants […] the gardens of lemons and oranges’.ii


    The Legacy of Cézanne

    'Even a dream, a fairy tale or a feeling can have a figurative representation, as long as they are depicted through the representation of people, nature, concrete things without being misinterpreted.' —Renato GuttusoRichly painted in a flurry of precisely fragmented brushstrokes in alternating flashes of electric blue, deep, mossy greens, limes, and of course the bold, bright orbs of orange edged in white, Aranceto Notturno is a dramatic example of Guttuso’s technical virtuosity and skill. Strikingly contemporary, these thickly painted passages move almost into abstraction, so immersed are we in the thick foliage of the tangled orange grove. Evoking the dense heat and sweet smells of a Sicilian evening, the composition is anchored by the crenulations of the overlapping terracotta roof tiles in the upper left-hand side of the canvas, bringing to mind one of the artist’s most frequently employed motifs: the rooftop views out across Palermo.


    Detail of the present work 
CAPTION: Hurvin Anderson, Grafting, 2015, © Hurvin Anderson. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022
    Left: Detail of the present work.
    Right: Hurvin Anderson, Grafting, 2015, © Hurvin Anderson. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022

    Drawing on the stacked and simplified geometries of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso’s early Cubist landscapes at l’Estaque, in these canvases, Guttuso demonstrates a remarkable compositional control, flattening his picture plane and piling its internal elements tightly against it. While aspects of this organisational schema remain in the present work, Guttuso’s handling of paint seems loser and more confident here, referring back beyond Cubism to the volumetric weight and solidity of Paul Cézanne’s still lifes, where the earliest stirrings of a more geometric treatment of form sit comfortably alongside a vibrantly complimentary palette of emerald green, viridian, sienna orange, and lead white. As in his more politically charged canvases, Aranceto Notturno also conforms to art historian Maurizio Calvesi’s description of Guttuso’s mature palette as ‘like the fire of Etna, like the turquoise of the Tyrrhenian Sea, like the green of the lizards and the twisted vegetation [and] like the yellow of the oranges and the sulphur.’iii Strikingly contemporary in its brushwork and handling, Aranceto Notturno prefigures the densely layered canvases of Hurvin Anderson’s evocative landscapes, bringing this mid-century work firmly in line with some of the most exciting painting of the genre emerging today.


    Like Cézanne, Guttuso believed in ‘an understandable and human art’ and, just a year before the present work was completed, he had travelled to Aix-en-Provence to visit an exhibition mounted to mark the 50th anniversary of the Post-Impressionist’s death.iv Reviewing the exhibition for Il Contemporaneo Guttuso identified the French painter as providing ‘the first text of the new painting, the true grammar of modern art’, the foundations that Guttuso would continue to build on throughout his career.


    Paul Cézanne, Pommes et oranges (Apples and Oranges), 1895 – 1900, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: akg-images
    Paul Cézanne, Pommes et oranges (Apples and Oranges), 1895 – 1900, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: akg-images

     Described by the hugely influential critic John Berger as ‘the most significant European painter of the post-war period’, Guttuso has more recently been enjoying a concentration of critical focus, with significant exhibitions hosted by Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London in 2015 and a 2016 retrospective displayed at the former Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza in San Giovanni Rotondo.v Fusing a long-standing realist tradition with Cubist and Expressionist elements, Guttuso created an evocative painterly language to describe life in southern Italy, amply represented by this vibrant canvas.


    Collector’s Digest


    •    A definitive Italian post-war artist, examples of Renato Guttuso’s paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Tate Gallery in London, Rome’s National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.


    •    Active as an art critic during his lifetime, Guttuso wrote expansively on art theory and particularly on realism for a number of prominent publications.


    •    Recently restored, the Guttuso Museum is located in the impressive Villa Cattolica in Bagheria holds over 100 drawings and paintings by the artist. 

    i Lara Pucci, ‘Guttuso, Guernica, Gramsci: Art, History and the Symbolic Strategy of the Italian Communist Party’, Tate Papers, no. 23, 2020, online
    ii Renato Guttuso, quoted in Rachel Spence, ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life, the Es Collection. London - review’, The Financial Times, 3 March 2015, online
    iii Maurizio Calvesi, quoted in ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’, Wall Street International, 2 December 2014
    iv Renato Guttoso, quoted in David Irwin, ‘Guttuso: Faithful to the Earth?’, The London Magazine, vol. 1. No. 6., September 1961, online
    v John Berger, quoted in Fabio Carpezza Guttuso, Guttuso, Milan, 1999, p. 29. 

    • Provenance

      Mimise Guttuso Collection, Rome
      Aca Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in April 1958

    • Exhibited

      New York, Aca Heller Gallery, Guttuso, 7 - 28 April 1958, no. 26, p. 31 (illustrated on the cover)
      Große Kunstausstellung München at Haus der Kunst, Arte Italiana dal 1910 ad Oggi, 7 June - 15 September 1957, no. 98 (titled as Aranceto grande)
      New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Recent Acquisitions, 30 January - 19 April 1959
      Milan, Palazzo Reale (no. 106, p. 197, illustrated, p. 127); Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Arte Italiana del XX Secolo da Collezioni Americane. La Mostra, promossa e studiata dal Museum of Modern Art - New York, è stata realizzata dall'Ente Manifestazioni Milanesi, 30 April - 10 September 1960; then travelled as New York, Santini Brothers Warehouse, 20th Century Italian Art from American Collections, 24 - 26 October 1960
      New York, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, 14 May 1965 - 29 April 1976

    • Literature

      Milton Gendel, ‘Art and artists under Communism. Guttuso: a Party point of view’, ART News, vol. 57, no. 1, March 1958, no. 3, p. 27 (illustrated)
      'Painting and Sculpture Acquisitions, January 1, 1958 through December 31, 1958', The Bulletin of The Museum of Modern Art, vol. 26, no. 4, July 1959, p. 20 (illustrated, p. 13)
      Alberto Moravia and Franco Grasso, Renato Guttuso, Palermo, 1962, p. 121 (illustrated)
      Enrico Crispolti, Catalogo ragionato generale dei dipiniti di Renato Guttuso, vol. II, Milan, 1984, no. 57/68, p. 86 (illustrated)

Property from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund


Aranceto Notturno

signed 'Guttuso' lower right
oil on canvas
140.3 x 230.8 cm (55 1/4 x 90 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1957.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 100,000 ‡♠

Sold for £170,100

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 3 March 2022