Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PRIVATE COLLECTION
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

Il Guerriero (The Warrior)

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Il Guerriero (The Warrior)
incised with the artist's signature and date 'l. fontana 49' (on the reverse of the base)
gold paint on glazed ceramic
46 ½ x 18 1/8in. (118 x 46cm.)
Executed in 1949
Capitini Collection, Milan.
Vantellini Collection, Milan.
Galleria Zarathustra, Milan.
Private Collection, Lentate sul Seveso.
Anon. sale, Christie's Milan, 24 May 2004, lot 320.
Galerie Karsten Greve AG, St. Moritz.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo Generale, Milan 1986, vol. I, no. 49 SC 8 (illustrated, p. 94).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo Ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Milan 2006, vol. I, no. 49 SC 8 (illustrated, p. 216).
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Lucio Fontana. Rétrospective, 2014, p. 296 (illustrated in colour, pp. 105 and 130).
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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

‘The problem of making art instinctively became clearer to me, neither painting nor sculpture, nor lines delimited in space, but continuity of space in matter’ (L. FONTANA)

‘I think Matter is important to the evolution of art, but the artist must control it, it is what the artist uses for his new creation, but the important thing, the most important thing is the Idea…’ (L. FONTANA)

Majestic and indomitable, Lucio Fontana’s Il Guerriero (‘The Warrior’) stands at over a metre high, an impressive and dramatic example of the artist’s breakthrough glazed ceramic sculptures, which rank among the first truly Spatialist works of his long and prolific career. Created in 1949, this work dates from one of the most significant and revelatory years of Fontana’s life. It was this year that saw the artist execute what would become his most iconic gesture: the hole, inaugurating the series of buchi (‘holes’) that have come to define his career; as well as create the first of his radical Ambienti spaziali, immersive spatial environments that placed him at the forefront of the Italian avant-garde. In the midst of these revolutionary discoveries, Fontana returned to the coastal town of Albisola in the summer of this year, where he immersed himself in the ceramic workshops in which he had worked in the 1930s. Here, able to model the wet clay with a direct and unimpeded vigour, he experimented with his nascent Spatialist ideas, exploring these theoretical concepts in physical form. One of the most powerful and imposing of these ceramic sculptures, Il Guerriero maintained a particularly important place in the artist’s work of this time, illustrated by the fact that he chose to exhibit an earlier version of this subject in a group exhibition in Rome in 1948. Over the course of 1949, he executed a further four versions of this impressive figurative subject, of which the present work is the largest, exerting a resolute and commanding presence throughout the space over which it presides; an icon of Fontana’s early post-war work.

Regarding himself above all else a sculptor, Fontana had, since his earliest days as an artist, been interested in the powerful artistic potential of materials – both tangible and intangible. Indeed, it was through sculpture that he realised his essential aims as an artist; he recalled that it was when, in 1930, he created the now lost Uomo Nero – a large and radical work in plaster covered with black tar – that, ‘the problem of making art instinctively became clearer to me, neither painting nor sculpture, nor lines delimited in space, but continuity of space in matter’ (Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti and R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 118). Having worked in a variety of different sculptural modes, both figurative and abstract, Fontana returned from Buenos Aires to Milan in 1947, with a radically new artistic outlook. Believing that traditional modes of painting and sculpture were outmoded, unable to reflect the modern epoch, he called for a reformation of the visual arts. He wanted art to come out of its frame and off its plinth and embody the dynamic concepts of movement, colour, time and space, freed from the conventional artistic categories of painting, sculpture and architecture. These ideas coalesced to become what Fontana called Spatialism. ‘Man is tired of the forms of painting and sculpture’, he declared in the Manifesto Blanco, a tract penned by a group of avant-garde artists in 1946. ‘The oppressive repetitions show that these arts have stagnated in values that are extraneous to our civilization, and have no possibility of development in the future…we abandon the practice of all the forms of known art, we commence the development of an art based on the unity of time and space’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in ibid., p. 116).

Like the Futurists before him, Fontana believed that art had to reflect and correlate with the society in which it was created. ‘Let us fling open the figure and let it incorporate within itself whatever may surround it’, Boccioni had declared in 1912 in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, and Fontana’s sculpture encapsulates this same concept. ‘The quiet life has disappeared’, Fontana declared in the Manifesto Blanco of 1946 – the first tract to introduce the pioneering ideas of Spatialism. ‘The notion of speed is constant in the life of man. The artistic age of paralytic forms is over…The old immobile images no longer satisfy the needs of the new man, who has been formed in the need for action, in coexistence with mechanics, which imposes constant dynamism…Appealing to this transformation in the nature of man, in psychic and moral terms and in all human relations and activities, we abandon the practice of all the forms of known art, we commence the development of an art based on the unity of time and space’ (ibid., p. 116). For the Futurists working in the formative years of the 20th Century, this meant encapsulating the new speed, simultaneity and dynamism of the modern metropolis into their art with the use of fragmented forms and the rejection of pictorial convention. Half a century later, modern life was characterised by revolutionary scientific and technological breakthroughs – Einstein’s space-time continuum, the dawn of space travel, or the invention of the nuclear bomb, to name but a few monumental examples – and Fontana felt passionately that contemporary art had to reflect this; ‘I assure you’, he stated in 1949, the same year that he created Il Guerriero, ‘that on the moon they will not be painting, but they will be making Spatial art’ (Fontana quoted in S. Petersen, Space-Age Aesthetics: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and the Postwar European Avant-Garde, Pennsylvania, 2009, p. 6). Removing sculpture from its pedestal, he shunned the traditional sculptural materials of marble or bronze, and instead immersed himself in the malleability and expressive potential of wet clay. In Il Guerriero, the convulsive, richly modelled surface comes alive, its peaks, rivulets and troughs penetrating and thereby activating the space over which it presides. Light and shadow falls in dynamic patterns across the tactile surface of the warrior, as if this powerful figure is in a state of constant, rippling movement, with energy pulsating throughout its core. No longer a static, immovable monument to the past, it is a vital and dynamic symbol of the post-war era, an indomitable impression of both man and art emerging defiant from the destruction of the Second World War.

While being inherently of its time, Il Guerriero, as with the majority of Fontana’s ceramic glazed sculptures of this period, also embodies the past, in particular the Baroque. A figure that clearly absorbed Fontana, the subject matter of this work plays on the many depictions of great warriors in the history of art, conjuring Michelangelo’s monumental David or Bernini’s Baroque vision of the same biblical character. With its exaggeratedly contrapposto pose, resolute and powerful presence, and sense of flamboyant, decorative detail – the arabesque incisions that adorn the figure’s chest, and likewise the feather-like plume that sits atop his head – Il Guerriero instantly conjures the dramatic visions of gladiators, warriors and soldiers that populate the art of the Baroque. Likewise, the white glaze that covers the dynamic surface of this work is reminiscent of the smooth marble of these earlier works, yet, crucially, it has come alive through Fontana’s dramatic modelling. Fontana had a particular fascination with the art of the Baroque, recognising in the sculpture and painting of this epoch the same commitment to the representation of movement that drove his own Spatialist explorations. ‘[the] Baroque was a leap ahead’, he declared in the Manifesto Blanco, ‘…it represented space with a magnificence that is still unsurpassed and added the notion of time to the plastic arts. The figures seemed to abandon the flat surface and continue the represented movements in space’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, op. cit., p. 115). This idea of matter continuing into space would come to define Fontana’s lifelong artistic explorations. With a sense of heroic grandeur and its swirling, sumptuous mass of gestural, roughly modelled forms that penetrate and articulate the space surrounding them, Il Guerriero embodies these revelatory new concepts; a powerful, early example of Fontana’s newly expounded Spatialism.

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