Collecting stories: Valeria Napoleone

The Milan-born collector and art adviser invites Christie’s into her London home for a glimpse of some of the many ‘uncomfortable’ artworks with which she and her family surround themselves — all of them by female artists

London-based, Italian-born Valeria Napoleone is as much patroness as she is a collector. ‘I think contemporary art is about communication,’ she says. ‘It’s essential to share it, and it’s also part of the journey to support the artist.’

Napoleone’s airy, high-ceilinged Victorian apartment in Kensington — designed by Philip Webb, the so-called ‘father’ of the Arts & Crafts movement, and adorned with Gothic Revival features — is crammed with challenging and diverse contemporary works. ‘I was aware of women not being supported within the arts system,’ she elaborates. ‘That made me realise I want to focus my collection on women.’

One of the first artists she included in her collection was her fellow Italian, Margherita Manzelli. ‘These works were a little bit difficult in the beginning, because they pushed your boundaries,’ the collector explains, with the camera lingering over an intimate portrait of a woman in a state of undress titled Neobros, painted in 1998. ‘The more I thought about them, the more I liked them. The fact of being uncomfortable in front of an artwork — this is something that I look for as a collector.’

‘When you are an artist, it doesn’t matter if people pay attention or not, but the drive and the encouragement you get from people who are actually paying attention is priceless’

Napoleone is not alone in confronting such uneasiness on a daily basis — her husband Gregorio and their three children, Federico, Gregorio and Letizia, are also living and breathing alongside works by the likes of Ghada Amer, Ella Kruglyanskaya, Sweden’s Nina Canell and Turner Prize nominee Andrea Büttner. ‘Some works are easier for them to relate to, some works are more challenging — especially for the children — but it’s exciting,’ says Napoleone. ‘The art works have become our family.’

One such is a mural commissioned from Lily van der Stokker, a Dutch artist based in Amsterdam and New York, which required one of the artist’s assistants to live with the family for five days. The resultant work features the words ‘100% Stupid’ emblazoned across a white wall, adorned by colourful, cartoonish flowers.

‘When you are an artist,’ continues Napoleone, ‘it doesn’t matter if people pay attention or not, but the drive and the encouragement you get from people who are actually paying attention is priceless. So I want that. I want to pay attention to what they are doing.’ Which, for any female contemporary artist aspiring to a wider audience, must be music to the ears.