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Giorgio Morandi’s Flowers, a c.1914 oil on canvas is a rare work since he preferred still lifes and landscapes. It is also of special interest as he only produced flower pieces for a particular reason: painted secretly, he would present them to his sisters on their birthday and, later, to his closest friends.

It explains why the bidding went smoothly past the top estimate to halt at €450,000 (£321,450) for this important early work in the artist’s career.

Private buyers from Italy and abroad snapped up most of the top lots (including the Morandi) and contributed largely to the sold rate of 74 per cent (by value and by lot), with 260 of the 353 works offered finding buyers and bringing a total of around €3.7m (£2.6m).

Two paintings by Afro sold strongly, helped on their way by their provenance. They had both belonged to Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Seagram’s founder, and were part of the Seagram collection, created to surround the employees with “the highest aesthetic standard of excellence” inside and outside the Seagram building designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

The first painting, Pietra Serena, a 3ft 6in x 6ft 6in (1.1m x 2m) mixed media work on canvas was dated 1957, a seminal year in the artist’s career, with a number of one-man shows in Italy and the USA.

The grey-toned work appears lit up with a filtered, soft light that plays on the muted tones. It sold at €270,000 (£192,860) claimed by the auctioneers as a record for the artist.
The second Afro featured splashes of bold, contrasting colours: red, blue, a little yellow, black and white. Dated 1959, this was a much smaller work and influenced by Pollock and even more by Gorky, as Afro himself stated. It sold within estimate at €78,000 (£55,715).

No sale of Modern art in Italy would be complete without the mark of Fontana, whose slashes have created a cultish and remunerative following outstripping that of Zorro, who clearly failed to grasp the artistic and spatial significance of his swordplay.

Concetto spaziale. Attese, comprising four vertically-aligned slashes on an ultramarine canvas, fetched €135,000 (£96,430)
A contemporary artist, Giuseppe Capogrossi, was here represented here by a major work and one long immersed in a private collection.

Superficie 286 featured a large black and white, vaguely birdlike outline with a small orange rectangle at its centre and realised €62,000 (£44,290).

Giorgio de Chirico was also present with one of his more typical subjects – Piazza d’Italia, showing arcaded buildings, a statue in a square and, in this case, two men and a passing steam train. Dated c.1940, the oil on canvas sold at €92,000 (£65,715).
His Horses in a landscape with woods and a coastline fetched €80,000 (£57,140).

A composition with figures by Massimo Campigli, showing four female figures of varying sizes went under the hammer at €72,000 (£51,430). The painting is typical of Campigli’s work in which, as poet Raffaele Carrieri put it, “everything is quite clear and indecipherable”.

Another icon of modern Italian art is Carlo Carrà, here represented by three works, two of which sold – a 1962 view of a port with four small sailing boats, making €60,000 (£42,860), and a view of the coast with a rough sea, a jetty and a lateen-rigged boat, making €52,000 (£37,140).

Sotheby’s (18.75-15.42% buyer’s premium, excluding VAT) began their auction of Old Master paintings on June 4 on an upbeat note, thanks to the upgrading of a 191/2in x 2ft 51/2in (50 x 75cm) view of the Grand Canal in Venice from “Circle of Bernardo Bellotto”
to “Attributed to Bernardo Bellotto”, an attribution which convinced at least two bidders who pushed the winning bid to €105,000 (£75,000).

This was the high point of an unexceptional sale, however, with the day’s major lot, a painting by Bassano depicting the Parable of Lazarus, failing to sell. In all, 79 of the 144 lots got away, bringing a by-value selling rate of 58 per cent. An idealised view with classical ruins by an artist from the studio of Gian Paolo Panini sold at a multi-estimate €72,000 (£51,430).

Two genre scenes proved popular, with Todeschini’s Game market, showing a still life of game and various figures, fetching €49,000 (£35,000) and a market scene with a blacksmith by Andrea Locatelli realising €25,000 (£17,860)

Finarte-Semenzato (20% buyer’s premium, including VAT) are closing the season with a number of sales. The first wave of the crescendo was a series of nine paintings by Pietro and Alessandro Longhi, offered in Venice on May 11 as part of a broader sale of Old Master paintings. Only four of the Longhis sold; these portraits were distinctly on the weak side, although some of the background details were charming, and this doubtless explains why they were not taken up.
The most expensive of the series was Pietro’s The Preceptor of the Grimani, a 21 x 15in (55 x 38cm) oil on canvas showing the tutor teaching two young Grimani boys their law. It sold at €171,000 (£122,140), a little less than expected.

The other oils sold were the Portrait of a gentleman in green, perhaps the most accomplished of the portraits, which made €70,000 (£50,000); Alessandro’s Portrait of Francesco Grimani made €57,000 (£40,714) and another version of the same subject, brought €59,000 (£42,140).
A separate catalogue offered a further 82 Old Masters in a rather humdrum sale which saw only 19 works selling.

Two were worthy of note. Going at €75,000 (£53,570) was a 20in x 2ft 9in (51 x 85cm) view of the entrance to the Grand Canal with the Salute, by the Florentine artist Giuseppe Zocchi, datable to before 1744 because it shows the campanile of Santa Maria della Carita which fell down in that year. Doing slightly better at €77,000 (£55,000) was a 2ft 4in x 4ft (72cm x 1.22m) portrait of Domenico Bartoli by Simone del Tintore, better known for his still lifes, which fetched €77,000 (£55,000).