Count Manfredi della Gherardesca sale in London

The private collection of celebrated Italian interior designer, collector, art dealer and curator, Count Manfredi della Gherardesca (1961-2022) will go under the hammer at Dreweatts in London.

Bamboo, rattan, walnut and part ebonised 'Chinoiserie' breakfront side cabinet
Bamboo, rattan, walnut and part ebonised ‘Chinoiserie’ breakfront side cabinet – estimated at £3,000-5,000

Celebrated as one of the most colourful, culturally erudite and well-loved figures in the international art and design scene, Manfredi was born to the noble Italian della Gherardesca family and raised surrounded by the beauty of the museums and galleries of Florence. This built within him a robust awareness of his own taste and the importance of the decorative arts as the foundation for Western culture.

Later, his mind would be captured by the draw of the contemporary and the way it challenged entrenched tastes and set ideals. It was the act of balancing these two important and enriching themes which would consume the rest of his professional life. The thrill of placing two seemingly incongruous objects side by side without diminishing the importance of either, but instead creating a wonderland where onlookers could learn and see something ‘different’, was something of a compulsion.

A pair of porcelain pheasants in the mid 18th-century Chinese export manner
A pair of porcelain pheasants in the mid 18th-century Chinese export manner – estimated at £1,200-1,800

Alongside a passion for the arts Manfredi built up an extensive knowledge over his lifetime and inspired many. Amongst those close to him, the American artist Jeff Koons said: “Manfredi was an amazing person. His aesthetics were clear and sharpened. I remember one time when Manfredi invited me to see Poussin’s early pastoral paintings. To this day, I still feel the quality of those works and the atmosphere of them that he shared with me. I will always feel united with Manfredi through the sensitivity that he shared with me of his insight into greatness.”

Lady Getty described him as an “Iconoclast, Aesthete, Polymath. A Man from a more refined and romantic age, straight out of a Florentine painting of the Cinquecento. He had an eclecticism and the wildest taste in art tempered by his incredible eye and absolute conviction. A rare star who lit up our firmament for much too brief a time.”  

Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) head study of Gerald Heard (1889-1971), oil on canvas-board
Glyn Philpot (1884-1937) head study of Gerald Heard (1889-1971), oil on canvas-board – estimated at £20,000-30,000

As well as touching many personally and professionally, his career began on his appointment as Director of the L’Antiquaire & the Connoisseur Gallery in New York. He then moved on to Citibank’s private art advisory division, before becoming Chairman of Sotheby’s Italy. In 2000, he founded MDG Fine Arts in order to bring galleries, auction houses, institutions and private collectors together and in 2016 he moved into interior design, as a result of regularly being asked to help furnish some wonderful homes with antiques and fine art.

The culmination of over three years of planning, the sale explores Manfredi’s many diversions, spanning Modern and Contemporary art, design and photography, to Old Master paintings, English and Continental furniture and sculpture, as well as the many exceptional decorative objects he used like alchemy to balance and curate his eclectic harmony. All point towards the pop-like multicultural sensibility of this much-missed tastemaker and his discerning eye to create distinct yet personal environments.

Red lacquer fibreglass 'Floris chair' by Gunther Beltzig
Red lacquer fibreglass ‘Floris chair’ by Gunther Beltzig (1941-2022) – estimated at £1,500-2,500

Commenting on this extraordinary collection, Joe Robinson, Head of Dreweatts House Sales and Private Collections department, said: “Manfredi possessed the rare quality of having excellent taste, extensive knowledge and an extraordinary vision. His profound passion made him a uniquely sophisticated and eclectic collector with a cultural depth representative of his keen appreciation for beauty in all its forms. Dreweatts are proud to have worked with Manfredi in the early stages of development for his sale and to have been entrusted with his collection. The collection is emblematic of his sublime, witty and original style.”

His extensive collection, which totals 400 lots, with estimates ranging from £80 to £100,000 is expected to fetch approximately £600,000. The sale, titled Alchemy of Design: The Collection of Count Manfredi della Gherardesca will take place at Dreweatts on April 24.

Life-sized blue glazed red pottery poodle, Italian, 2nd half of 20th century
Life-sized blue glazed red pottery poodle, Italian, 2nd half of 20th century. Estimated at £200-300

Commenting on their father’s collection that surrounded them as they grew up in the family home in London, Manfredi’s daughter Margherita and son Aliotto della Gherardesca, said: “Our main home has always been a North Kensington townhouse, generous in proportion and decorated with many different artefacts. From the get-go we were exposed to a sophisticated and varied array of pictures and decorative arts. Even our baby rooms were hung from top to toe with Brunelleschi water colours, which were charming and evocative of childhood fantasy. Then there were the trinkets, some housed in a cabinet of curiosities and others just placed on tabletops, mantelpieces and console tables. These objects fired our imaginations and our curiosity from an early age and we count ourselves lucky to have not lived in a minimalist environment, to which our father certainly did not aspire.”

Through the process of disseminating their father’s collection, they commented: “We have, through this process, gained a deeper appreciation of the depth of his knowledge and thirst for collecting. Our father scoured auction houses, antique shops and art galleries worldwide in the tracking down of family heirlooms. He managed over the years to add to the family’s collection, as well as picking up things he could not resist at the time! We were also fortunate enough to have our father as a guide in many a museum or exhibition around the world. His knowledge of the history of art was inexhaustible. We only hope that everyone who is successful at this sale will enjoy what they purchase and know that there is a story that surrounds each and every item.”

Circle of Massimiliano Soldani Benzi, Italian, Florence, CA 1700 'Cristo Motto'. Terracotta, on ebonised wood base
Circle of Massimiliano Soldani Benzi, Italian, Florence, CA 1700 ‘Cristo Motto’. Terracotta, on ebonised wood base – estimated at £20,000-30,000

Manfredi had a firm following from around the globe, from people across all industries and among them was the Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger (who has written the catalogue forward for the auction). Jagger met Manfredi through Dora, the daughter of Prince Rupert Loewenstein, with whom he worked from the 1960s (Princess Maria Theodora zu Löwenstein – Wertheim – Freudenberg, known as Dora Löewenstein, married Manfredi in 1998). Jagger said: “One of Manfredi’s many charms was his joy of discovery, be it places, people or art. Manfredi’s taste can be called eclectic or even bohemian, but it’s really just being confident about what you like. You only had to visit one of Manfredi’s houses to appreciate his sense of style and decor. I spent some months at Castello di Castagneto, Manfredi’s family seat in Italy, where I became more familiar with how profound his knowledge and connection with the history of art was. Looking over this catalogue of Manfredi’s collection we can all see the breadth of his taste and talent. It could be simultaneously inspired, explorative, outlandish and often eccentric – 50 Belgian chocolate pots will attest to this! Manfredi would say: “It all works together so long as what you’re surrounded by is loved and has meaning – What a perfect way to sum up this collection and indeed, the man himself.”