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Marcello Fantoni​

June 2017  -  July 2017

This is the second exhibition in which an artist’s work is shown within the context of the Afridi Gallery, and it is devoted to Marcello Fantoni (1915-2011), an acknowledged master of Italian Modernist ceramics.  

The exhibition comprises twenty-one unique studio pieces from the collection of the artist’s son, Claudio Fantoni.  Each object was chosen to illustrate the artist’s creative development in an exceptionally long career, which spanned the innovative art movements of an entire century.  

The influence of the Cubism of Picasso and Braque is clearly apparent in his work, with the simplified forms and purity of line that Fantoni also admired in the art of antiquity.  Fantoni achieved this simplicity in his own work through years of painstaking study, which resulted in objects that possess, in the artist’s own words, a well-studied form.  

Steeped in the great Tuscan ceramic tradition, Fantoni never forgot his artistic heritage, with its roots in Etruscan pottery, the ceramic masterpieces of the Florentine renaissance, the earthenware of Ulisse Cantagalli, and the figure sculpture of his near contemporary and tutor Libero Andreotti.  Drawing on this rich body of work to inspire a lifetime of artistic experimentation, Fantoni’s work appeals to collectors for many different reasons, not least for the quality and complexity of the glazes. 

Examples of Marcello Fantoni’s work may be found in major museums from New York to Tokyo. In Italy they are represented in the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza,  the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, and the Uffizi, where  Fantoni became the first living artist to be the subject of an exhibition. It was held in 2000 to celebrate his 85th birthday, and marked the climax of Fantoni’s artistic career, not only as a great exponent of Florentine ceramic art, but also as a distinguished contributor to the city’s reputation as a centre of international modernity.  

Marcello Fantoni was born in Florence in 1915, the son of Renato, a wealthy insurance broker. After six years of compulsory primary education, the young Fantoni was bored with sitting behind a desk. He longed to draw and dirty his hands with clay and, at the age of twelve, he entered the prestigious Istituto d'Arte di Porta Romana in Florence. Examples of his work from this early period demonstrate that the young art student was already a skilled draughtsman with a developed sense of colour for which his later ceramic work is renowned.  
Fantoni spent seven formative years at the Porta Romana, where his tutors included Carlo Guerrini, Libero Andreotti, Bruno Innocenti and Gianni Vagnetti, who taught figurative and decorative sculpture. While Fantoni was a student, Guerrini became artistic director of the Cantagalli factory and, in the same year – 1923 - Giò Ponti was appointed as director of the Porta Romana. 

After his graduation in 1934, Fantoni joined his former teacher at Cantagalli, but soon realised that the freedom he craved to develop his own style as an avant-garde ceramicist could only be achieved through the precarious existence of an independent artist. This conviction was reinforced by working briefly for the Deruta and Cima Majolica Company in Perugia, where the young Fantoni rebelled against the repetitive life of working within an established tradition.  

A couple of years later, Fantoni took the brave decision to leave secure employment and open a workshop in the Via Luigi Lanzi in Florence.  In order to survive on his own, Fantoni was forced to compromise his artistic vision and to produce a number of serial ranges – utilitarian items such as ashtrays and umbrella stands, which were particularly popular with the American market.  

An artist to his fingertips, Fantoni regarded this development as his pact with the devil -  an uncongenial necessity to help pay the bills. It was in fact a commercial success, due in no small part to Fantoni’s wife, who was a talented saleswoman, and sold his work in a shop in the Via della Vigna Nuova in the centre of Florence. 

Fantoni’s artistic journey came to a halt when Italy entered the Second World War, and he joined members of his family in the struggle against fascism. During the years of political and artistic oppression under Mussolini, Fantoni had been compelled to adapt his output to the ‘taste’ of the fascist regime. After the war, he returned with renewed vigour to his true vocation as a ceramicist sculptor. 

During the redevelopment of Florence in the early 1950s, Renato and Marcello built a large family house on top of Monte Rinaldi, north of the city, where Marcello had his studio. Claudio remembers his childhood home as light-filled, with spacious rooms furnished in a mixture of styles, new and old, reflecting his father’s eclectic approach to his work as an artist.  A glass table by a friend and fellow Florentine, Pierluigi Spadolini, stood beside an antique Venetian cabinet, and the whole house was filled with Fantoni’s collection of renaissance tiles and apothecaries’ jars, which he treasured for the bold and extravagant use of colour, characteristic of so much of his own work.  

Meanwhile the shop in the Via della Vigna Nuova continued, but Fantoni increasingly gained the confidence to turn down commissions for purely commercial work. When his wife commented that a particular colour or shape was in fashion that season, Fantoni ignored her advice. As a rebellious teenager, Claudio also remembers being critical of his father’s refusal to be ‘trendy’ – for which the family was paying the price in financial terms. Claudio would cringe with embarrassment when his father collected him from school in an old banger, while other parents turned up on sleek new motorcycles, the epitome of cool.  

Over the years Claudio came to respect and admire his father, and to understand his single-minded approach to his art. A craftsman is someone who makes useful things; he might do it beautifully, but he does it for a specific purpose. An artist must do what he feels; he cannot resist the creative urge. Fantoni was an artist who put creative integrity before financial security. His mission was quite simply to have a positive impact on the lives of those who appreciated his work by creating beautiful objects. As a father and a friend, he is remembered as a colourful man, always cheerful, and fun to be with.   

Marcello Fantoni died in Florence on 3 August 2011.  On the following day an obituary in La Nazione spoke for many admirers and collectors by describing him as ‘il maestro della bellezza’. 

For further information about the artist and available works please contact us on 020 7349 9909.

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