ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE ITALIAN COLLECTION
ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)

Ferro (Iron)

ALBERTO BURRI (1915-1995)
Ferro (Iron)
signed and dedicated 'BURRI' (on the reverse)
welded iron on wood
13 1⁄8 x 13 3⁄4in. (33.3 x 35cm.)
Executed in 1959
Private Collection, Rome (acquired directly from the artist in 1960), and thence by descent to the present owner.
C. Brandi, Burri, Rome 1963, no. 75 (illustrated, p. 169).
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Burri, Contributi al catalogo sistematico, Città di Castello 1990, pp. 440 and 488, no. 59.44 (illustrated, p. 441).
C. Cyvoct, 'Burri Né' in L'oeil, no. 645, April 2012 (illustrated in colour, p. 100).
Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini (ed.), Alberto Burri, General Catalogue, Painting 1958-1978, vol. II, Città di Castello 2015, p. 393, no. i.5944 (illustrated in colour, p. 80 and illustrated in colour, vol. VI, p. 133).
London, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, Alberto Burri: Form and Matter, 2012, p. 70 (illustrated in colour; incorrectly dated '1960').
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Senior Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection for more than six decades, Ferro (1959) is a powerful creation from Alberto Burri’s celebrated series of Ferri (‘Irons’). These works, executed between 1958 and 1961, are part of an evolution from the stitched burlap Sacchi (‘Sacks’) that Burri had made earlier in the decade. Moving on from the Sacchi’s naturally weathered and worn materials, in the mid-1950s he had begun to burn and buckle pristine wood veneer and plastic in his Combustioni (‘Combustions’), using an oxyacetylene torch to create virtuoso chromatic and textural effects. With the Ferri, he likewise manipulated sheets of cold-rolled steel straight from the mill. By scorching, cutting and welding the metal before mounting it on wooden panel, Burri created dramatic scapes of wrenched surface and raw, jagged edge that confront the viewer with visceral immediacy. With its echoes of heavy industry and mechanised conflict, the medium spoke to a physically and culturally wounded Italy in the years after the Second World War. Anchored by a rhythmic halo of nails, the present Ferro’s planes plunge from smooth facets to gaping fissures and bubbling, soldered seams, with one large, central shard tilted outwards like a claw. Its colours range from mottled, carbonised darkness to flashes of silver and gold, activated by the glints and shadows of the play of light. Burri displays his material in all its splendour, forging an eloquent painterly statement from the matter of the real world.

The Ferri furthered the search for new modes of art-making that defined Burri’s practice, taking a radically different route to the gestural painting of his Art Informel and Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. Uninterested in illusion or representation, he accorded the direct use of material the urgency of a moral imperative. The artist’s resourceful approach was informed by his time as a military surgeon in the Italian army, first in the mid-1930s and later in the Second World War, during which he spent five years as a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas. In the present work, the themes of injury and healing that he had first explored in the sutured Sacchi remain: the burnt, shorn and blemished metal becomes a body of bruises and scars, while also echoing the wrecked buildings and military hardware of the ravaged country to which Burri had returned after the war. Burri’s work comprehends the trauma and ruin of his time in an ultimately hopeful vision. Carving out a new artistic language from twisted, tarnished steel, the Ferri are an avowal of creation coming from destruction.

The Ferri’s impact on contemporary art was huge, resounding well beyond Burri’s immediate legacy in the Arte Povera movement that swept Italy in the 1960s. The architectural grandeur of Richard Serra’s steel sculptures, Lucio Fontana’s slashed, scintillating reflections on the high-rise skylines of New York, and Yves Klein’s celebrated series of ‘Fire Paintings’ all drew on Burri’s innovations. The present Ferro, with its variegated hues, rugged textures and muscular composition, demonstrates the rich formal possibilities that his engagement with unorthodox materials opened up. Its welds, sharp edges and tempered blooms—which Burri modulated by adjusting the flame of his blowtorch—are born of heat, cutting and oxidation: these traces confer a noble beauty on the work, which has taken its final form through a succession of violent processes. In a world scarred by war, Burri’s fierce relief of iron and fire stands as an alchemical testament to endurance, transformation and renewal.

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