Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970)
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Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970)

Le Scarpe (The Shoes)

Domenico Gnoli (1933-1970)
Le Scarpe (The Shoes)
titled and dated 'Le scarpe 1967/8' (on the reverse)
indian ink and pencil on cardboard
25 x 19 ¼in. (63.5 x 48.9cm.)
Executed in 1967-1968
Gnoli Collection, Rome.
Private Collection, Rome.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2002.
Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Linee della ricerca artistica in Italia, 1960-1980, 1981, no. 124 (illustrated, p. 18).
Verona, Galleria d’ arte moderna e contemporanea “Achille Forti”, Domenico Gnoli - Antologica, 1982-1983.
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Domenico Gnoli 1933-1970, 1987, no. 195 (illustrated, unpaged).
Rome, Galleria Oddi Baglioni, Domenico Gnoli, 1987.
Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, DG, 1987, no. 72 (illustrated, p. 115).
Madrid, Fundación Caja de Pensiones, Domenico Gnoli. Últimas Obras 1963-1969, 1990, no. 66 (illustrated, p. 24).
Venice, Galleria Contini, Omaggio a Domenico Gnoli, 1959-1969, 1995-1996, no. 20 (illustrated, p. 77). This exhibition later travelled to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Galleria Contini.
Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie, 1996-1997 (illustrated, p. 61).
Prato, Centro per l’ Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Domenico Gnoli, 2004, no. 200 (illustrated in colour, p. 171).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Alessandro Diotallevi
Alessandro Diotallevi

Lot Essay

‘…I never lost a Renaissance sense of taste and craft’

Domenico Gnoli, quoted in Yannick Vu, ‘Rome, 3rd of May 1933 – New York, 17th of April 1970’, pp. 28-82, in Domenico Gnoli: Últimas Obras, 1963-1969, exh. cat., Madrid, 1990, p. 28.

Endowed with an almost hallucinatory clarity, Le scarpe is a rare, remarkable drawing by Domenico Gnoli. Stitched out of minute hatchings, a male shoe vertically fills the paper, next to the ghostly presence of its own twin. Impeccably portrayed, the shoe is presented in all its sculptural monumentality. Gnoli purposefully chose a view point from which he could peer down into its open section, contrasting the hollow interior with the decorated, elaborate surface of its frontal end. Despite the use of simple hatchings, the artist skilfully rendered the different textures of this apparently simple object, suggesting the subtle folds that time and use left on the front of the shoe, as well as the rigidity of the heel's curved walls.

Although he was a painter of remarkable skills and vision, Gnoli was above all a dexterous draughtsman and an imaginative illustrator. His career had started as such, and throughout his life the artist continued to publish drawings and illustrations, achieving international fame. Gnoli begun to systematically paint only in the early 1960s, barely ten years before his premature death in 1970. During that intense period, he mastered a style that for its virtuoso technique and entrancing close ups made him one of the most significant figures within the Italian artistic panorama of the Post-War years. Contrasting with the intricate, rich scenes of his illustrations, Gnoli’s paintings presented magnified, distilled details of clothes, furniture and objects, abstracting these elements into hypnotic surfaces of continuous textures and patterns, on which light cast but an oneiric third-dimension.

Within this dichotomy of styles, Le scarpe constitutes a rare instance in which Gnoli the draughtsman met Gnoli the painter. Executed with the same minute intricacy of Gnoli’s graphic style, the work belongs – for its subject and focus – to the realm of his paintings. In his paintings, Gnoli had in fact more than once depicted shoes: a female shoe viewed in profile (Scarpa vista di profilo, 1966, Ludwig Museum, Cologne); a male shoe perceived as it detaches itself from the ground (Sous la chaussure, 1967, Private Collection); stilettos, neatly paired and seen from behind (Lady’s Feet, 1969, Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal). Gnoli’s last but one work he would ever paint depicted the tip of a pointed female shoe (Pointed Shoe, 1969, Private Collection). While it is possible that Gnoli may have had a painting in mind while executing Le scarpe, the level of detail displayed in the drawing claims for the work its own independence as a finished work of art in itself. The sketches which preceded Gnoli’s paintings appear indeed more extemporaneous by comparison, like the quick and excited jottings of a mind at work. Quite differently, in Le scarpe everything is calculated, following the slow and powerful advancement of the artist’s already formed idea.

Gnoli’s fascination for shoes resonates with ideas of fetishism and subconscious that were central to Freudian psychoanalysis. Writing on the subject, the artist’s second wife Yannick Vu suggested: ‘The symbolism behind the object (shoe, for example) is perfectly explicit and should be taken largely in its most simple erotic sense’ (Yannick Vu, ‘Rome, 3rd of May 1933 – New York, 17th of April 1970’, pp. 28-82, in Domenico Gnoli: Últimas Obras, 1963-1969, exh. cat., Madrid, 1990, p. 74). During his life, Gnoli expressed a vivid interest for psychoanalysis. In the late 1950s, fascinated by the subject, he regularly visited St. Luke’s Hospital as a volunteering therapist, helping patients to express their obsessions and traumas through drawings. Adopting such practice, Gnoli must have been familiar with the work of the Surrealists, who had championed the method half a century before in order to unleash the unconscious into their art. Inevitably, shoes played a crucial role for the Surrealists too: in L’ Amour fou, André Breton’s unconscious is unlocked by the vision of a spoon transforming into a slipper; Salvador Dalí’s Scatological Object Functioning Symbolically relied on the triggering presence of a lady’s red shoe. In Le scarpe, Gnoli turned his eye to a pair of man shoes, probing the enigmatic sexual potential of a pair of leather, formal shoes. Pointing towards the viewer and lasciviously unlaced, the shoe seems to parade its cavity as an invitation. The masculinity of the shoe thus reveals its latent vulnerability, while its spectral twin – more structural and rational – fades like a beaten super-ego.

Despite its affinity with the Surrealist Avant-garde, the dexterity and precision of Le scarpe seems to rather situate Gnoli's work on the side of tradition. A sort of Da-Vincian anatomy of a shoe, Le scarpe refuses any sort of reference to abstraction, a mode of representation prominently debated and championed in the 1960s through Art informel as it had already been, twenty years earlier, with Abstract Expressionism. Pursuing a very personal, distinct vision, in his art Gnoli celebrated instead the eerie, abstract qualities of reality, aligning his work to the Pittura Metafisica and Magic Realism of the first half of the century.

Gnoli's insistence on the world of objects – devoid of any integral human presence – nevertheless struck a cord with the realism of Pop Art, seemingly placing the artist in the middle of the contemporary anti-tradition artistic field. Pop artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were shaping their sculptures and filling their canvases with larger than life objects, borrowing from the sensational language of advertising and turning these symbols of mass consumption into overwhelming and estranged icons. While Pop Art – cynically or not – pointed at the charms and flaws of the new, consumerist society, Gnoli’s art remained, nonetheless, centred onto those very textiles, clothes and accessories which consumerism was about to replace with cheap, volatile substitutes. Filled with a sense of dignity and only barely showing the signs of time, Le scarpe seems to be a tribute to those formal shoes, people treasured and ceremoniously set aside only to be used on Sunday, celebrating, as Renato Barilli defined it, the ‘sober and monumental taste, like that which we had had in Italy right after the Second World War’ (R. Barilli, ‘The Copernican Revolution of Domenico Gnoli’, pp. 18-26, ibid., p. 24). Expressing Gnoli’s unique, poetic vision, Le scarpe is a work that echoes both the artist's relationship with the European tradition of Modern art and his unique, significant position within the panorama of Italian Post-War art.

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