What I Buy and Why: Italian Designer Manfredi della Gherardesca on the Perils of Buying With Your Ears Rather Than Your Eyes

We caught up with the collector about the artists on his wish list, and passing up the chance to buy more work by Andy Warhol in the '80s.

Count Manfredi della Gherardesca.

There is a long list of what Italian collector Manfredi della Gherardesca wants to buy.

In fact, the ex-gallery owner, sometime-art advisor for Citibank, and former chairman of Sotheby’s Italy covets more than he could possibly acquire himself—so he now runs his own art and design consultancy to help others navigate the maze that is the contemporary art market. Also a curator, Della Gherardesca is currently putting the finishing touches on an epic survey of François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne for Ben Brown Fine Arts London and Claridge’s ArtSpace.

We caught up with the collector about his rare Andy Warhol landscape, the difficulties of displaying contemporary video art, and the hard lesson he learned when he bought into the hype of an artist without considering the long game.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

The first time I bought something at auction was at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. For 600 francs, I purchased a small oil panel, 19th century, with an Orientalist market scene by Eugène Delacroix. I still own it, and it comes with me to every house I’ve lived in. It’s an integral part of the history of my own collecting.

What was your most recent purchase?

The last painting I bought is a 19th century family group by an anonymous Lombard painter. I purchased it because of its naïve but precise style, making it seem like a much more modern 1930s portrait. It’s going to decorate the walls of my country house.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

My theoretical wish list—as I can’t afford any of them!—is a Barnett Newman work on paper; a painting by Jennifer Packer; a 19th century painting by Giuseppe Bezzuoli (there’s an exhibition dedicated to him at this very moment at Palazzo Pitti in Florence); and a trompe-l’œil that represents a bas-relief on the subject of Hugolino and his children—a notorious Dante’s Inferno character and an ancestor of mine. This last work I will actually buy.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

It was an Andy Warhol work from the ’80s, possibly the only landscape he ever painted; Naples Vesuvius.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

London and New York are the places I generally shop for art.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

A few years ago, I bought a work on paper by an American artist with a stellar career and out-of-the-norm prices. It’s the only time I bought something with my ears rather than my eyes. I never really liked the work, and I sold it almost at a loss.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa?

The last two sofas I hung work above were in my home in London. Above one, there’s a Bolognese school (Guercino)—something I inherited and that I love. On the other sofa, I hang a 1640s still life of carpets and fabrics with beautiful flower arrangements and silver objects by the French painter Jacques Hupin, a rare find.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

I find contemporary video art incredibly challenging. I own a Jennifer Steinkamp of a tree, which I have installed only once since I’ve owned it—for one night! Evidently, my real estate holdings are not suitable for video installations.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

Courtesy Manfredi della Gherardesca.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

As a young agent in the early ’80s, I bought many beautiful early images by Cindy Sherman. I also had ample chances to buy ’80s works by Andy Warhol, who probably single-handedly has one of the fastest-growing price levels of any 20th century artist.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

The Nike of Samothrace. Strategically placed above a large staircase, it would be difficult to bring it home but extremely rewarding. The sense of movement and the air-lightness of this sculpture is just sublime.


Les Lalanne: Makers of Dreams” is on view April 28 through July 29 at Ben Brown Fine Arts London and Claridge’s ArtSpace, London.

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