THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION. Fabrizio Moretti is the founder of Galleria Moretti, located first in Florence and then London and most recently Monaco. The prestigious and philanthropic Moretti gallery is internationally known, particularly for its work with Old Master paintings.
Listen to this interview here.
Fabrizio Moretti, in 2019 you held a special exhibition of your collection at Villa Sauber in Monaco under the patronage Princess Caroline of Hanover that you dedicated to your late beloved father Alfredo. But tell me, can an art dealer really be a collector when his pieces are coming and going all the time?
Everything in life is on loan, so a moment will come when you need to give back. It’s good to be attached to things, but not so much that you are a victim and a small man. You need to be attached to people, to thoughts, to ideas. My first love is Old Master pictures, which I deal in and I collect, especially the 14th 15th and 16th century.
Are you also involved with more recent art?
Yes. In my twenties I didn’t like modern and contemporary art, but travelling, looking in museums and going around auction houses opens your mind. It is a beautiful thing in life that every day you learn and understand that you are always more ignorant, and I started to like and buy contemporary art. It was a great honour when museum curators in Monaco decided to show my collection. 60 percent of the exhibition was modern and contemporary, and 40 percent old masters.
Is your private collection for sale?
It is not for sale, but I don’t exclude that you can sell something if you want to improve and buy something else, because, in the end, life is a game.
There is an image in your recent catalogue of a 1520 work by Giovanni della Robbia that could almost be contemporary. How come?
This sculpture that I gifted to the museum in Monaco is a contemporary object, because you can see la ceramica en vitriata as Vasari used to call it – glazed ceramic in English – is as he did it in the 16th century. It’s the most contemporary old master sculpture that you can have today. I’m totally in love with the della Robbia family and the objets d’art they produced.
All must have three things in common. I love suffering in paintings, so every painting has a suffering concept. I like colours, so very powerful and colourful paintings. And I like passion. In the contemporary painting of Jenny Saville, for example, you’ve got the same passion and introspection that you find in the painting of Guido Cagnacci or Guido Reni.
Do you live in Monaco now?
Yes, and in the next couple of months I will have my new gallery in London, in Duke Street. I will also pass some time there because I believe that even after Brexit London will still be the capital of the art world in Europe.
“Urs Fischer portrayed this saint cuddling me to show that art was protecting me but at the same time art had made me a prisoner for the rest of my life. And it’s the truth.”
Urs Fischer b. 1973. Maruspiale (Fabrizio), 2018.
Standing paraffin wax mixture, pigment, steel and wick.
Fabrizio Moretti, how has the pandemic affected you and your colleagues in the art world?
Drastically, and it is now one year without the art fairs where most of the turnover of galleries was realised. Many online sales are being taken, and it is an alternative, but I believe that when you buy a painting you need to touch it. You need to see it. You need to make love with it. I am totally convinced you cannot buy it from an image, especially in the Old Master world. After the pandemic I hope that people will go back – like in the beginning of the 20th century – to visiting, spending time with and having a connoisseur relationship with galleries and art dealers. The art world is a luxury for dealers and for buyers. You need to buy art because you love it, not as an investment.
Before the pandemic old masters were of less interest and therefore more affordable to buy than contemporary artists like Jeff Koons or Pistoletto or Penone, who reached enormous prices. You personally sold masterpieces to the most important European museums, like the Louvre, and American museums like the Metropolitan, the Getty or the Kimbell. Why are you so internationally successful in that?
I don’t think that I’m so successful. Luck is very important in life, and I’ve been lucky to find good paintings. The Old Master market is still completely undervalued. Recently Sotheby’s sold a Sandro Botticelli for his record price in a public sale of 92 million dollars, but that painting was the painting.
Was it a good deal for whoever bought it?
In proportion to the prices of modern and contemporary art it should have sold for 200 – 250 million dollars. We are talking about the last portrait of Sandro Botticelli in private hands. What more do you want from a Renaissance artist? But unfortunately the old master world is niche. It’s a problem of culture. We are living in the worst cultural moment of the last 50 years.
The worst, from every point of view. Young people don’t know how to behave themselves. In Italian we call it educazione civica. The new generation is vulgar and uneducated. At the beginning of the 20th century people, including the lower classes, were very educated and respectful. The young generation of today, rich or poor, are not respectful. They’re not interested in art. They see art as something you don’t need, because their parents and the state don’t teach them. In Italy Ministro Bonisoli was going to take art history out of the school curriculum for 12 or 13 year olds. How can you remove art history in a country like Italy, whose core business is art? This is very bad. My clients and those of my colleagues are all 75 to 85 years old, and there’s no new blood. No person of my age, 44 years old, comes to my gallery and buys an Old Master. This is a problem of education.
When artists like Picasso or Miro or Braque became Cubists, or when Marcel Duchamp did what he did, wasn’t it seen as outrageous or as vulgar as the work of Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons or other contemporary artists?
Contemporary artists represent the world of today. Jeff Koons is a perfect example. Damien Hirst is a perfect example. Urs Fischer is a perfect example.
If I am not wrong you were portrayed by Urs Fischer in one of his wax candle sculptures, and the one of you was exposed in Florence?
Yes, in Florence in Piazza della Segnoria in 2017. I was quite touched because wax is the best work of Urs Fischer, and these candle works disappear and show how life and human beings can be fragile. He said to me, I would like to make a sculpture of you with an object that you love, and the object that I loved was a sculpture in marble of San Leonardo, the saint of prisoners, by Neroccio di Bartolommeo de’ Landi, a Siennese painter and sculptor of the 15th century. Urs Fischer portrayed this saint cuddling me to show that art was protecting me but at the same time art had made me a prisoner for the rest of my life. And it’s the truth.
“An art dealer is a desperate person that loves what he does and lives with hopes that he will find a good painting and that he will sell a good painting.”
Fabrizio Moretti, you are Secretary General of La Biennale Internazionale dell‘Antiquariato di Firenze – the art fair in Florence- and have also been involved with TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair). Have you held many board positions in big fairs?
Yes, the position that I love more now is on the Getty Council. The opportunity to sit down in a board as a dealer means that there’s no more prejudice in the art world, they are open. It was very satisfying when two years ago the mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, asked me to join the scientific committee of the Uffizi to represent the city of Florence. It’s the first time in history that a dealer sits on a committee of the Uffizi, without doubt one of the best museums in the world. The new director Eike Schmidt is doing a very good job. He freshened up the museum and opened a new campaign of acquisitions, buying great paintings for the collection.
When you deal with old master drawings, sculpture, paintings, how do you learn the knowledge of attribution and authenticity?
Knowledge is power, and you need to have a sensibility for art. Sometimes people say to me, where did you find your paintings? And I don’t know, because most of the time the paintings found me. It is a coincidence to find a great painting. But you do need to study, go to museums, go to fairs and see restorers. At the beginning of my career, I went with my father every day to the restorers to see the stripped paintings where you can see the real texture of a painting on a panel or on canvas. You can understand the condition, and then, after a lot of time, you can understand when the painting is real or fake. A fake painting always has something that doesn’t convince you. In Italian we say “Non canta.” It doesn’t sing.
Are there many fake old master paintings?
There are fake paintings in old master, modern and contemporary art. The bad side of the system is there in every field, but if you go to professional dealers and auction houses and get the right consultants and restorers, you cannot make a mistake.
Do you consider fashion when you buy?
Fashion is always a subject to consider, but time is the perfect judge. van Gogh was scared his paintings were not going to be successful, but look now! In my field of the mediaeval, Giotto was a superstar. He was the first painting entrepreneur because he had workshops in every part of Italy with a lot of assistants. Paintings signed by Giotto were done by the workshop, as happens today, maybe, in for example Jeff Koons’ studio. He doesn’t touch anything, the studio does the actual work, and you buy it at auction or in a gallery as autographed.
Tiziano – Titian – was also a very productive artist. Did he have a workshop?
In the old master world every great artist had a workshop around them, but you need to understand how much work the artist did and how much the workshop did. Botticelli, who we mentioned before, had a great workshop. Filippo Lippi, another great hand of the Renaissance, was in Botticelli’s workshop. In Verrochio‘s workshop were Leonardo, Botticelli, Perugino, and Lorenzo di Credi. If this is the workshop, then you’re more than welcome!
I had a Michelangelo panel from when Michelangelo was 12 or 13 and worked in the workshop of Ghirlandio. The Torment of Saint Anthony is now in the Kimbell Museum of Art. It belonged to me for a short amount of time: from the moment that I bought it in the sale, and then through a dealer who sold it for me to the Kimbell.
When you sell, are you both happy because of the success and sad to lose what you had?
When I started in this business, I wanted to prove to myself that I was able to create funds to buy other things. Today thank God my position has changed. Every time I sell a great painting I’m a happy man, because it’s good business, but, on the other hand, I know that I lost a great opportunity and I regret it. So now it is different.
When you buy at the big auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, are you impulsive?
You’re trying to buy what you like and what you think that the market will accept later, but the main concept in buying is always quality and condition. If you buy quality, you never go wrong. I try to buy in the big auction houses, but we also work with all the small auction houses to see if we can make discoveries. Remember, the famous Leonardo that was sold for 450 million dollars was bought in a small sale in Boston for 5,000 dollars as “follower of Leonardo”. Two years ago I was able to buy this major painting by Cimabue that sold in Paris for 24 million euros. It was found in the kitchen of an old lady who didn’t know what she had. She thought she had an icon. The art world is full of discoveries, and to rediscover a masterpiece that was unknown for many years is the great satisfaction.
Which are your own best discoveries?
You keep them to yourself, just as you never discuss a relationship with a woman – it is a gentleman’s thing. The discovery that I wish to make still needs to come. It is in the future.
How do you work Fabrizio Moretti?
Being an art dealer is not a job. It is a passion. I wake up and like what I do. Today, with iPhones and computers, you don’t need to travel to see paintings everywhere. I used to go every day to Milan and to Rome, and 20 years ago business was concentrated in Italy. The market was to buy outside of Italy and to sell in Italy. Today it is the opposite. All the market is outside of Italy, because the government doesn’t do anything to help the trade and as we mentioned at the beginning of the interview there’s no new generation of dealers and collectors, so the market is slowly dying.
Are your clients mostly museums, collections and foundations?
Yes, but you cannot live only from them because they don’t buy so often. Today I work as a private dealer and I have more than a couple of good clients in the world. I don’t work anymore as a public dealer, although I did some public sales with Sotheby’s with my own stock, and I believe in that kind of relationship.
Is the competition great between dealers and auction houses?
There is no competition because we’re talking of two different kinds of markets. Today the big market is all in the hands of the auction houses. We must face it, they are very strong. People like the idea of going to a sale to bid. They feel comfortable. They feel safe that if somebody is bidding against them it means that is the value. And sometimes that is not true. You can overpay for your painting in a sale because the person on the other side was a crazy guy. And sometimes you can make a very good deal in a sale because nobody was there that day, and you buy a great painting for the reserve. The auction houses do a very good job. Sotheby’s and Christie’s results are top results. They have the market.
Since this is the case how is it for a dealer?
As a private dealer I try to be close to a couple of good clients. Then I do some operations with the auction houses, with museums, with advisers. Sometimes I finance paintings to other dealers. I try to do a little bit of everything. I like to collect, and now that I’m in Monaco I also expanded my business into other fields such as real estate and new biotech companies.
Are you also a businessman?
No, no, no. I am, and I’ll always be, an art dealer. “Mercante d’arte.” I like the Italian way of saying it.
What is an art dealer?
An art dealer is a desperate person that loves what he does and lives with hopes that he will find a good painting and that he will sell a good painting.
Jacopo Carucci, called Pontormo. Empoli, 1494 – Florence, 1557. Madonna and Child with the infant Saint John the Baptist. Oil on panel, 74.9 x 59.6 cm
Guido Cagnacci. Santarcangelo di Romagna, 1601 – Vienna, 1663. Cleopatra. Oil on canvas, 95 x 75 cm
Neroccio Bartolomeo dei Landi. Siena, 1447 – 1500. Saint Leonard. White marble, 57 x 45 x 19 cm.
Giotto di Bondone (attr. to). Vicchio, c. 1266 – Florence, 1337. Madonna and Child. Tempera on panel, 121.5 x 73.5 cm
Jannis Kounellis. 1936 – 2017. Rosa Nera, 1967. Black cotton fabric on canvas, 203.2 x 137.2 cm
Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto. Venice, 1697-1768. Venice, the Grand Canal looking East from the Palazzo Flangini to the Campo San Marcuola. Oil on canvas, 47 x 77.7 cm
“Education is more important than anything else, because if you have educated people you can wish to have a better generation in the future.”
Fabrizio Moretti, you are neither a curator nor an art historian?
I am an art historian with a mind corrupted to be an art dealer. When you’re born into this system, you die with this system. When you see something old in a shop, you want to go in and ask the price. You have passion for the past. In Italian you say la passione del tarlo, and that is something you have in your DNA – you cannot live without it. It’s like a drug.
What did your father Alfredo teach you?
The principles of life. He came from a simple and humble farming family, and he taught me respect for simplicity and love for life. One of the last things he said to me was, “I left you a very nice business, because living as an art dealer, if you are clever, gives you a way to be free. To live without a boss and to deal in things that you love is a luxury, so it’s a great business.” He was right.
Your father was your trusted counsellor. Are there other people you can trust, or do you now make up your mind by yourself?
Unfortunately my father was the only person that I could trust 100 percent. I asked him for his suggestions about life, not business, because in business you can make a mistake and lose money but in the end you do more business and get the money back. But suggestions about life are very important, priceless, and not to have a person like this in my life anymore is a big disaster.
What is the most important quality of a merchant?
To be a good dealer in this market you need to be straightforward, say the truth, and have a good eye for beautiful things. If you have beautiful things, in the end you will always, always win.
Do you prefer your paintings to be put in the hands of a collector or a museum?
Paintings should always be at the disposition of the public, so my heart would like the paintings to be in a museum, but only if my paintings are important enough to really fill a gap. Paintings that don’t fill a gap I would prefer to sell, and to give the money to public institutions that need help for disease research, or for young people that need to find a job in the art world.
Which nationality loves old masters more?
Today the collecting of old masters is globalized. America is still a very important country, South America, China, also England. In the last 10 years a new section of Russian clients are buying Italian renaissance art. There are clients in every part of the world, but not a big number, a few everywhere.
You said that young people are ignorant. Why don’t you teach them to like old masters as much as contemporary art?
It would be nice, but it is a really big challenge. Education is more important than anything else, because if you have educated people you can wish to have a better generation in the future. It’s the beginning, and you need to cultivate it. In Italy in the 80’s my generation was ruined by television, which was so vulgar that it formed a vulgar generation.
Are you a pessimistic man?
No, I am a realistic man. I really always hope in miracles. Tomorrow morning somebody may call me and who knows what I will find.
Good luck Fabrizio Moretti and thank you very much for having been with me today.