E (as in Eccentric)
The passion for collecting is formed in a London residence where every work narrates an episode from life
Architectural Digest, Italy
“When we were getting married, Dora asked me if I wanted a wristwatch as a wedding present”, recounts 53-year-old Manfredi della Gherardesca, an art expert who spent eight years looking after the artistic investments of Citibank clients and then struck out on his own in 2000. “I replied saying maybe an Ed Ruscha would be better”, he recalls with a wry smile while sipping a cup of tea on a zebra-skin sofa. “I didn’t have to say it twice. She gave me a large Ruscha painting with an inscription that sounded like a warning: ‘Just an average guy’”.
The painting was the first piece of an interesting and unusual collection of contemporary works, narwhal teeth and eighteenth century plates from Lombardy, which Manfredi and Dora, daughter of Rupert zu Loewenstein, the famed Rolling Stones manager, have painstakingly put together, turning their neo-Renaissance, 5-floor home in Notting Hill, into a modern cabinet of wonders. “I adore imaginative superimpositions and the interiors of D’Annunzio’s Vittoriale and the salons from the Gattopardo have influenced me the most”, explains Manfredi in an exclusive interview with AD.
“Art continues to be my passion. It’s an integral part of the homes that I love creating. I’m now working on a large manor house in Gloucestershire where I’m trying to bring together English eighteenth and nineteenth century with contemporary art works and expressly created fabrics and wallpapers”.
Just as D’Annunzio loved to place Greek sculptures alongside snakeskins, so you too are unafraid of bold combinations.
“Exactly. My home is probably the most striking example. I believe that people come to me because they appreciate my ability to overlay styles and art forms that appear to have nothing in common. I’ve always believed that aesthetics are a personal matter linked to life’s passions. This is why I recognise myself in the splendour described in the pages of Mario Praz’s La casa della vita and in the passion for Meissen ceramics of Kaspar Utz, the collector described by Bruce Chatwin”.
Talking of great passions, is there an object in your London house to which you are particularly attached?
“Not exactly. Each piece tells something of me or Dora. The Andy Warhols of Mick Jagger were commissioned by my father-in-law in 1975. The life-size marble sculptures of hands and feet are from the nineteenth century and are examples of ‘memento mori’. While the fifty ceramic coffee makers in the dining room are the result of years looking round Belgian and Dutch antiques shops”.
Your homes seem also to be the result of a continuous search for small objects. Do you have any favourite addresses?
“I love Golborne Road in London, the bric-a-brac shops like Les Couilles du Chien, Phoenix, Arbon Interiors or Kokon or Zai, but also the markets around Church Street”.
If you were to recommend a contemporary artist to buy now?
“I love everything connected with Arte Povera and Conceptual art, as they are pieces that are easy to live with. French artists of the post-war period, from Soulages to Poliakoff, are more difficult aesthetically. I love Paolini, Merz, Boetti, Pistoletto, but also Manzoni, Burri, Fontana. Then Americans such as Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman, Richard Diebenkorn and Jasper Johns”.
And if you had an unlimited budget?
“No doubts at all. Barnett Newman”.
One last question: Is there a designer to whom you would entrust the creation of your home if you could turn back the clock?
“That’s difficult. In New York in the eighties, I worked with Renzo Mongiardino to create the apartment of Bob and Chantal Miller. He was a genius. I appreciate Jacques Garcia’s fin-de-siècle style. Peter Marino has done some amazing projects but now is too commercial. In London the best is always David Mlinaric. Among the young designers there’s Patrick Kinmonth and Chester Jones. But maybe, in the end, I would just put my trust in myself once again”.