NEW YORK – Swann Auction Galleries’ summer vintage poster offering on August 3 received a significant boost from a single consignment. A group of 50 Italian Liberty posters were deaccessioned to benefit the acquisitions fund of the Palmer Museum of Art. The Penn State University museum is temporarily closed as moves to a new campus building that is slated to open in spring 2024.
Several posters from this group landed among the top sellers in the auction.
These included a poster the auction house had not encountered for 25 years, an extraordinary allegorical image marking the launch of the battleship Roma from the La Spezia shipyard on April 21, 1907.
Designed by Leopoldo Metlicovitz (1868-1944), its primary subject is a mermaid bearing the wreathed SPQR emblem of the Italian state with the pre-dreadnaught class battleship itself confined to the background as it cast into the Ligurian sea, accompanied by a host of Italian flags and a large plume of water. Roma later saw action in the Italo-Turkish War in 1911-12.
Although almost 5ft by 3ft 6in, this is essentially the top portion of the complete poster. Originally it would have had an additional text sheet underneath listing the festivities surrounding the launch. Estimated at $10,000-$15,000 to account for some replaced losses and repaired tears, it took $15,600.
Estimated at $12,000-$18,000 and achieving $16,900 was Magazzini Vittoria, created for a women’s clothier in 1909 by Aldo Mazza, another of the so-called “fathers of modern Italian poster art.” The sensuous image in the Art Nouveau style is well known. It depicts a lithe and graceful woman enveloping herself within the multi-colored fabrics, while a peacock at her feet looks up as if in envy. This example was in relatively good condition, with some tears repaired when it was mounted on paper.
A less familiar image by Mazza, and one that generated significant competition, was his Scineza Per Tutti (Science For All). Again from 1909, the client was a fortnightly scientific journal published by the Sonzogno publishing house of Milan from 1879 to 1943. This image, touting the innovation of the X-ray, was Mazza’s winning design for a competition created by the journal. With a condition grade of B but now mounted on linen, it was estimated at $3,000-$4,000 and earned $16,900.