Enrico Donati (1909-2008) Vaso di fiori
Lot 22
Enrico Donati (1909-2008) Fleurs surréalistes
Sold for £67,250 (US$ 113,035) inc. premium
Lot Details
Enrico Donati (1909-2008)
Fleurs surréalistes
signed 'Donati' (lower right)
oil on canvas
76 x 101.5cm (29 15/16 x 39 15/16in).


    Acquired directly from the artist by Fleur Cowles, New York and London.
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    'J'aime la peinture d'Enrico Donati comme j'aime la nuit de mai.'
    André Breton, La Surréalisme et la Peinture, New York, 1945, p.188.

    For André Breton, Enrico Donati was a vital force capable of mediating between the competing strands of Illusionism and Abstraction within the Surrealist movement. Donati had come late to painting and so his approach was largely insulated from the bitter infighting that had characterised Surrealism since the 1920s. He trained initially in Pavia and was active as a composer of avant-garde music in Paris in the 1930s before his arrival in New York in 1940. On turning to painting as a means of expression he was first noticed by the critic Lionello Cavallo following an exhibition at the New School for Social Research in 1942. Cavallo introduced him to Breton and his circle, including Duchamp, Ernst and Dali, who met every week at Larré's French restaurant on West 56th Street. As Donati later recalled, Breton exclaimed 'You are one of us.' Donati's brand of Surrealism at this date, exemplified by the present work, combined the spirit of Automatism, here in the use of pigments spread randomly across the horizontally-held canvas, with the apparently contradictory discipline of Illusionism in which the real world, as the vase of flowers in this work, is manipulated through the prism of fantasy.

    Donati stands as a major figure in this last phase of classical Surrealism, co-curator with Duchamp of the International Surrealist Exhibition at Galerie Maeght, Paris, in 1947, and also as the bridge to the later artistic movement to which Surrealism gave inspiration and in which he was a significant exponent, particularly Spatialism in Italy and Abstract Expressionism in America, where he had become a citizen in 1945.

    As the critic Maurice Nadeau noted '[Donati] restores to Surrealism its primal vigour which was perpetual conquest and liberation, and to its revolution he adds a spiral unwinding the infinite' (M. Nadeau, 'Enrico Donati', Cahiers d'Art, 1946, p.418).


    Fleur Cowles was a distinguished painter and writer, and a hostess with an almost legendary address book encompassing the international set, stretching from a suite of American presidents to the Shah of Iran and President Nasser, and on to Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor and Margot Fonteyn, among very many others. However, as she herself said, her lasting testament was Flair, the short-lived but enormously influential magazine of which she was founder, editor-in-chief and guiding light more than sixty years ago. In only twelve issues published in New York from February 1950 to January 1951 Flair set standards for design innovation and high-quality production which are revered to this day. As remarkable as its physical impact, was the roster of contributors drawn from Cowles' extraordinary network of friends and contacts. Artists included Miró, Salvador Dalí (for whom she wrote an authorised biography) and the young Lucien Freud in his first appearance in a US journal, while Winston Churchill, W.H. Auden, Tennessee Williams and Simone de Beauvoir contributed articles. In 1953 President Eisenhower asked Cowles to attend the Coronation in London as his personal representative, with ambassadorial status.

    She moved easily in the avant-garde artistic community in New York in the 1940s, and was firm friends with many of the leading artists who had sought refuge there, including Enrico Donati from whom she acquired Fleurs surrealistes directly. Her proud declaration was that in her homes in Europe, where she moved in 1955, she only hung pictures by artists she knew personally. Her own painting tended towards the surrealist, and entered no less distinguished collections, including those of her friends James Stewart and Greta Garbo.

Saleroom notices

  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Digard. Please note that AR is not applicable for this work as stated above.
  1. William O'Reilly
    Specialist - Impressionist and Modern Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, W1S 1SR
    United Kingdom
    Work +1 212 644 9135
    FaxFax: +44 20 7447 7434
Similar items