LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1986)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)

Donne sul sofa (Woman on the sofa)

LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
Donne sul sofa (Woman on the sofa)
painted plaster
15 3/8 x 17 ¾ x 11 ¾in. (39 x 45 x 30cm.)
Executed in 1934
Giulio Carlo Argan Collection, Rome.
Private Collection, Acqui Terme.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo generale, vol. I, Milan 1986, no. 34 SC 33 (illustrated, p. 62; illustrated in colour, p. 65).
Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, 1987-1988 (illustrated, p. 354).
J. De Sanna, Lucio Fontana: materia, spazio, concetto, Milan 1993 (illustrated).
B. Hess, Lucio Fontana: a New Fact in Sculpture, Cologne 2006 (illustrated in colour, p. 13).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan 2006, no. 34 SC 33 (illustrated, p. 161).
A. White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge 2011 (illustrated in colour, p. 107).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Arte Italiana: Presenze, 1900-1945, 1989 (illustrated in colour, pp. 429 and 739).
Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Memoria del futuro: arte italiano desde las primeras vanguardias a la posguerra, 1990 (illustrated in colour, pp. 292 and 505).
London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000 (illustrated in colour, pp. 26 and 66).
Mantova, Castello di San Giorgio, Lucio Fontana: scultore, 2007-2008 (illustrated in colour, p. 163).
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

Filled with a vivid sense of swirling energy, Lucio Fontana’s Donne sul sofà marries visual intensity with technical virtuosity. Executed in 1934, it is a unique and intimate sculpture shaped from plaster and accentuated by rich colour. The subject of two women frolicking playfully on a sofa is metamorphic in its realisation, being informed by Fontana’s inner vision of an art of movement and dynamism. The roughly modelled medium – impressed everywhere by the artist’s sensual, gestural touch – is both a celebration of the female form and a celebration of form itself, as the figures melt into and bond with the space that surrounds them. The amorphous women penetrate space, they articulate it, continuing beyond the bounds of figuration as they convey their intense sense of flowing motion. Looking at Donne sul sofà, it becomes clear that abstraction and figuration were not mutually exclusive artistic positions early in Fontana’s career: instead, their unison helped establish his underlying interest in form and matter that runs like a thread through all his work.  

Fontana’s figurative plaster and ceramic sculptures of the 1930s were an important precursor to the Spatialist theories he would later develop, which eventually led to his post-war buchi (hole) and tagli (slash) paintings. The Manifesto Blanco that Fontana co-created with his students in 1946, for example, presses into service many of the principles he had explored in sculptures like Donne sul sofà. In this work, the swirling arabesques and protean forms articulate in three-dimensions the Manifesto Blanco’s statement on the Baroque masters, who ‘expressed nature in terms of dynamics’ and ‘determined that movement is an innate condition of matter’ (reproduced in G. Ballo, Lucio Fontana, New York, 1971, p. 186). While Fontana is often associated with works that are infused with a futuristic simplicity, he was nonetheless constantly drawn to the Baroque, and these women, tilted into a near heart-shaped arrangement, represent the bond between the Baroque and Spatialism that would reappear in his work throughout the following decades.

In the exhibition catalogue for the Fontana retrospective in 1999, Sarah Whitfield suggests the artist may have had a particular source for this subject, and that it was perhaps ‘a parody on the Italian baroque, possibly on small seventeenth-century bronze figure-groups’ which are posed frontally as if they were actors on a stage (S. Whitfield, Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, p. 25). This would help explain the metallic bronze hues coating the surface and the fact that Fontana chose to paint the sculpture on one side only, which implies Donne sul sofà is not entirely intended to be viewed in the round. Fontana’s polychromic sculptures were considered controversial at the time, and even lead to arguments between himself and Constantin Brancusi when the pair met in Paris in 1937. But for Fontana, colour provided an ideal method to further ‘break down the material’ and to harness light in a way that was reminiscent of Boccioni’s animated Futurist forms (L. Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfield, ibid., p. 22).

Donne sul sofà represents Fontana’s rebellious streak on many levels, for its wildly textural form defied the classicising tendencies of the prevailing Novocento art movement and its subject opposed the geometric abstraction promoted by his associates at the Galleria del Milione – a hub of Milanese intellectual life. Being executed in plaster, it also signifies the artist’s rejection of the many years training he had undertaken with his sculptor father and at Milan’s Accademia di Brera under Adolfo Wildt. After years of painstaking labour working in marble and bronze, Fontana greatly appreciated the ease and immediacy afforded by a malleable medium. Both plaster and clay allowed him to rapidly mould shapes into being and to explore the nature and meaning of the artistic gesture. Yet despite the humble status of these materials, he was insistent that his work did not fall into the category of decorative arts: ‘I am a sculptor, not a ceramicist,’ he stated in 1939. ‘I have never turned a plate on a wheel nor painted a vase. I detest lacy designs and dainty nuances . . . People called my ceramics primeval. The material looked as if it had been hit by an earthquake, yet it was motionless’ (L. Fontana, ‘La mia ceramica’, Tempo, 21 September 1939).  Donne sul sofà is a supreme example of such ‘earthquaked’ forms, with its surface upheaval providing a dramatic reminder that energy is a vital element in both life and art.

The significance of Donne sul sofà is matched by its distinguished provenance. The sculpture was initially presented to Anna Maria Mazzucchelli in 1936 after she had taken over the direction of Casabella, a magazine that regularly featured Fontana’s work and the new Rationalist architectural movement that saw him receive several major sculptural commissions. In 1939 Mazzucchelli married Giulio Carlo Argan, a leading art historian who later became the Mayor of Rome and a Senator in the Italian Parliament. Argan was an early champion of Fontana’s art and was the spokesperson for the Continuità group of Italian abstract artists that Fontana associated with during the 1960s. A related sculpture from 1934, also entitled Donne sul sofà (34 SC 32) is housed in the collection of the Fondazione Boschi Di Stefano in Milan. 

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