The Collection of Chiara and Francesco Carraro: A marriage of art and design

The story of a superb collection juxtaposing giants of post-war Italian design with modern masterpieces — with a full showcase of lots from the 12 December sale in New York


Carraro residence, Venice. Centre: Alberto Burri, Rosso Combustione Plastica, 1957. Artwork: © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Francesco Carraro had a truly visionary taste in art. Polymathic in his interests — from Italian glass and Tiffany lamps to 20th-century works of art and Modern furniture — Carraro, with his wife Chiara, focused their curiosity and connoisseurship on exceptional works of art and design. It was a decades-long creative journey that resulted in a deeply personal collection, one composed of only what he loved.

‘I have accumulated a lot’, Carraro mused in later years, ‘too much to have on display all the time. [But] I love to look at beautiful things and be surrounded by them. I want to really live with the things I buy.’


Carraro residence, Venice. Centre: Mario Schifano, Leonardo, 1963. Artwork: © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

The grandson of pioneering Italian manufacturer Giovanni Carraro, Francesco Carraro was born in Padua in 1930. The young Francesco was largely uninterested in the running of the family’s eponymous business, spending his formative years exploring Rome’s lively cultural scene in the 1950s and studying alongside the visionary composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Berlin in the mid-1960s. 

It was in Germany that Carraro first began to collect, starting with glass. ‘I was away from my family for the first time,’ he explained, ‘and I began buying these small, inexpensive glass objects — just for the pleasure, really.’

By the late 1970s, Carraro’s acquisition of design, and in particular glass, had expanded to include more important works by figures such as Art Nouveau master Émile Gallé. The collector was soon a fixture at galleries and auctions in New York, London and Paris, where he acquired works of Modern design and Post-War art to add to his burgeoning collection. In the years to come, his collection evolved to encompass furniture, objets and fine art by figures such as Josef Hoffman, Giò Ponti, Alberto Burri, William Kentridge and Joseph Cornell, among many others.

Tiffany lamps and Murano glass in shades of green were offset by brightly-coloured Pulegoso glass and red leather club chairs

Working with Gilda D’Agaro, a long-time collaborator of Carlo Scarpa, the Carraros created a Gesamtkunstwerk of contemporary art, architecture and design nestled amongst the historic canals of Venice. The apartment’s double-height salone was emblematic of the effortless eclecticism that defined the couple’s collection: on one wall, an imposing Alighiero Boetti Mappa hung alongside an enigmatic shadow box construction by Joseph Cornell; Tiffany lamps and Murano glass in shades of green were offset by brightly-coloured Pulegoso glass and red leather club chairs. Of special poignancy was a 1910 marquetry vase by Émile Gallé, showcased in a revolving vitrine, that alluded to Francesco Carraro’s earliest days in collecting.

Until his death in 2014, Francesco Carraro lived surrounded by a lifetime’s achievement in connoisseurship and collecting, one that celebrated the constant evolution of international artistry. A beloved, glamorous figure on the vaporetti and cobbled streets of Venice, Carraro exuded an infectious enthusiasm for art and design that he hoped to pass to future generations. ‘I want these pieces to continue to have a life,’ he declared, ‘their beauty to be appreciated for generations to come.’

The collection will be sold in New York across Christie’s sales of Post-War and Contemporary Art in November and Design in December.

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