Dhe German-Italian painter Massimo Campigli was a sought-after artist in the 1950s who was honored in international exhibitions and also took part in the Documenta. The course of his life is that of a European shaped by the history of the 20th century: Campigli was born Max Ihlenfeld in Berlin in 1895, but grew up in Florence from the age of four. As a young man he began to work in Milan for the “Corriere della Sera” and maintained contacts with the Futurists. With the outbreak of World War I, he adopted the pseudonym Massimo Campigli and fought on the Italian side. His first stay in Paris, where he settled as a foreign correspondent in 1919, was a decisive stage in his life, but then he turned to painting.
At Montparnasse he associated with artists such as Giorgio De Chirico and Fernand Léger. In the Louvre he discovered Egyptian art and, back in Italy, the figures and colors of Etruscan painting. In the decades that followed, Campigli lived in France and Italy before settling in Saint-Tropez, where he died in 1971.
Auctions from the estate of artists have a special attraction, because each lot also has its aura: the works are like chosen ones, they were part of his everyday life, and they often influenced his work. On December 7th, a collection of 75 works from Campigli’s former home will go under the hammer at Artcurial in Paris. The auction is titled ‘Dreamtime’, a nod to Aboriginal creation mythology, whose art Campigli was particularly passionate about collecting.
When you leaf through the catalogue, you can feel a very special mood. A mysterious archaism and color harmony radiate from the artist’s paintings, drawings and prints, as well as from the works of non-European cultures with which he once surrounded himself. In addition to Aboriginal art, Campigli collected painted wooden signs and paintings on palm bark from Papua New Guinea or African statuettes (estimates from 400/800 euros and up to 2000/3000 euros).
Fascinated by Aboriginal art
The group of about twenty Aboriginal works, mostly depicting animals, is unusual. Estimates start at 1,500 to 2,500 euros, for example for a painting with stylized crocodiles arranged as if in a pattern. These paintings are not about depicting an animal, but something that goes beyond it – arguably its spirit. A kangaroo floating in the pictorial space of the blackened eucalyptus bark also has the effect of symbolic transcendence (4000/6000 euros).
As a figurative artist, Massimo Campigli swam against the tide of his time and primarily placed stylized, hieratic female figures at the center of his pictorial works. In paintings such as “Maison/Casa” from 1961, the top lot of the auction, which is expected to reach 120,000 to 180,000 euros, the organization of the pictorial space shows the influence of the non-European works of art that surrounded him in the studio. A “Woman’s Head” in old pink fresco painting from 1941 combines the spirit of the much admired Etruscan art with modernism (20,000/30,000). In the drawings and prints, Campigli’s female figures with their round heads appear as if they came from another time. Estimates for signed lithographs start at 200 to 300 euros.