Lodovico Caumont Caimi
Last 19 May the auction room of Castello Mackenzie was full, as it had not happened for many years for fine art sales. The atmosphere recalled the Genoese auctions of the early 1980s, when the crowd thronged before the opening of doors to be able to have a seat.
Among those present in the hall there were several Mario Panzano’s (1930–2014) old clients, several merchants who in the past had sold him beautiful things and who were maybe trying to buy them back, and the usual familiar faces, which never miss significant Genoese sales.
Since the beginning, it was immediately clear that the youngest and most aggressive collectors – who had all visited the halls of the Castle or via XXV Aprile in the days before the auction – were following the sale by phone or “on line.” Disappointment appeared immediately on the face of those present when it was clear that it would have been impossible to buy the rarest and most important items for the prices indicated in the catalogue.
The sale started immediately on a double track, which did not change for the entire afternoon. Decorative items, which were to outline the gallery in via XXV Aprile, with a mainly aesthetic value, chosen with the popular taste of Panzano, were sold all or almost all around the estimates, without exciting surprises. But as soon as one of the many rare and important objects in the catalogue was put for sale, a hard-fought battle started, initially among the people in the room, to end up almost always among the phones and the web, often with surprising results.
Among the objects from the gallery, a rare pair of corner cupboards – in perfect condition – in violet and rosewood dating to the mid 18th century, with bronzes and original gilt decorations, stood out for quality and elegance. The choice of using the Verona marble for the tops, quite unusual on the Genoese furnishings, whose shades of pink fits in perfectly with the colour of the wood veneer, is typical of the finest furniture for which the “bancalari” were accustomed to use rare marbles, not common on the local market, sometimes archaeological recoveries. Moreover, it is worth mentioning a remarkable Louis XV work-table and some bedside tables perfectly proportioned and finely executed, which have obtained particular success for their rarity and perhaps also for the ease of placement due to the small measures. Among the non-Ligurian items, great interest was shown for the collection of nine small Venetian dressing mirrors in polychrome lacquer, decorated in a variety of colours sometimes with touches of gold, with skits in chinoiserie or polychrome flowers, very sought after in the past and clearly still coveted by collectors today.
Savona majolica was really worthy of a small museum. It has always been a specialty of Mario Panzano, with beautiful examples of large dimensions of the production from the middle of the 17th century and the end of the 18th century, both white and blue and polychrome.
Among the silvers, it is important to mention a Louis XVI inkwell dated 1788 of elegant design, built with a perfectly thrown thick slab, and an uncommon holy water stoup dated 1749 with the image of the Virgin of the Assumption, similar to other existing in the collections of Banca Carige, to which it was sold from Panzano in 1972.
The fact that the sale was a “real” auction and not simply the liquidation of the stock of the warehouse of a merchant was highlighted by the presence in the catalogue of different objects housed for decades in the home of Mario Panzano, one of those rare antique dealers who preserved for their own personal enjoyment some of the most interesting objects that they happened to buy. Among the unknown items, never seen before even from his best customers, a huge success was obtained by a rare Genoese Louis XV commode with floral “French” inlays and gorgeous gilded bronzes made specifically for it, in perfect condition, virtually untouched, never restored and re-polished.
A stunning pair of paintings by Bartolomeo Guidobono with Grechetto’s subjects came also from his home, elegant and with beautiful sizes, published in the monograph by Mary Newcome, awarded to a lucky buyer for a very cheap amount, a testimony of how paintings, including those of high quality, are basically less rare on the market than furniture and exceptional objects. The overall result of the sale confirmed the impression that a new generation of collectors is being born: intelligent, cultured and able to understand the historical and artistic value of certain objects, who lets themselves be advised in the purchase of rare pieces and in a state of perfect preservation. These new collectors are often well aware of the contemporary art market and know that, in comparison to negligible amounts, they can buy antiques and works historicised and of great cultural value, often unique.
It seems therefore that the Italian antiques market is evolving along the lines of what has long been the international market. The gap between the values of the most common objects and rare and important ones is definitely increasing. The vast majority of furniture and antiques simply decorated or in a bad state of preservation, can be bought today for such inviting sums to become highly competitive with even the most modern production of contemporary furniture. Strong and determined is instead the focus of the collector for the furniture and objects of great quality, backed by a precise plan and a flawless execution, evidence of the technical and artistic capacity of the past, preferably with a documented historical provenance that allows a precise cultural classification. The increasing rarity of works with these requirements on the market pushes the competition of those who are able to understand the difference, with remarkable economic results, even if very far from the figures of the contemporary art market, seemingly without a logical justification.