24 April 2018

Giuseppe Panza - art collector

Businessman amassed more than 2,500 pieces

Giuseppe Panza collected more than 2,500 works of art between the 1950s and 1980s
Giuseppe Panza collected more than 2,500 works of art
between the 1950s and 1980s
The art collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, whose fascination with postwar art, particularly American, led him to build up one of the world’s most important collections, died on this day in 2010 in Milan.

A businessman who succeeded his father in making money from wine and property, Panza acquired more than 2,500 pieces in his lifetime, many of which he sold or donated to museums and art galleries.

Some he parted with for millions of dollars, although he always insisted that his motivation was never financial gain but the love of art.

Approximately 10 per cent of his collection remains in the 18th-century Villa Menafoglio Litta, his family home at Varese, north of Milan, where he created 50,000 square feet (4,600 sq m) of exhibition space.

He had an astute eye for talent, often identifying unknown artists who would go on to become collectible long before their works commanded premium prices.

For example, he anticipated the popularity of Minimalism in the 1960s, snapping up works by Donald Judd and Dan Flavin well before their careers had really taken off.

Panza's collection was one of the  largest assembled
Panza's collection was one of the
largest assembled
Born in 1923 in Milan, Panza had a comfortable background. His father, Ernesto, was a wine distributor who invested in real estate and who in 1940 was given the title of count, which Giuseppe inherited, by King Vittorio Emanuele III.

He began reading books about art as an adolescent recovering from illness but it would be some years before he had the chance to develop his knowledge.  In the meantime, he fled wartime Italy for Switzerland in 1943, fearing that his misfortune to be living in the north of the country would lead to him being conscripted to fight on behalf of the Fascists and the Germans against the partisans in what already appeared to him to be a losing cause.

On his return to Italy after lying low in Lucerne, he enrolled at the University of Milan to study law, but never practised. Instead, he joined his father in the family business, although with no great enthusiasm. However, it was on a business trip to the United States in 1954 that he bought his first paintings and set forth on what would become a lifetime’s obsession.

With his wife, Rosa Giovanna Magnifico, he began a collection that included some work by European artists but which focussed primarily on the American artists who had captured his imagination. He bought his first work by the abstract expressionist Frank Kline, entitled Buttress, for $500. Years later, it was part of a collection of 80 works he sold for $11 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Panza paid $500 for Frank Kline's Buttress, which he later sold as part of a $11 million collection
Panza paid $500 for Frank Kline's Buttress, which he later
sold as part of a $11 million collection
He and Rosa were among the first patrons of Pop art, Minimalist and Conceptual Art, collecting works by Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden and Robert Morris among others.

They brought their paintings back to their home in Corso Porta Romana in Milan, originally intending to stop at 100 but finding themselves unable to resist the lure of finding new works by new artists.

By the 1980s, Panza began to dismantle the collection.  His intention at first was to sell to Italian museums and galleries so that the pleasures he had derived from from assembling it over 25 years and more could be shared with his fellow Italians, but Italian institutions were not wealthy and there were few takers.

Instead, many works went back to America.  In addition to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, he struck a deal with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which acquired, as part of a $30 million package, more than 300 Minimalist sculptures and paintings in the 1990s.

The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also have substantial Giuseppe Panza collections.

Nearer home, he donated more than 200 works to the Lugano Cantonal Art Museum in Italian-speaking southern Switzerland and gave the Villa Menafoglio Litta to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the Italian equivalent of the National Trust.

He was survived by Rosa Giovanna and their children, Alessandro, Maria Giussepina, Federico, Giovanni, Giulio and Maria Luisa.

The Porta Romana in Milan stands on the site of one of the original Roman gates into the city
The Porta Romana in Milan stands on the site of one
of the original Roman gates into the city
Travel tip:

The Corso Porta Romana in Milan runs from the remains of the Porta Romana, one of the city’s traditional gateways, to Piazza Giuseppe Missori, in the city centre, a short distance from Piazza del Duomo. The visible remains of the gateway dates back to the 16th century Spanish walls, although there was a corresponding gate in the Roman walls. Indeed, Porta Romana was the first and the main imperial entrance to the city and the starting point of the road leading to Rome.

Piazza Monte Grappa in Varese
Piazza Monte Grappa in Varese
Travel tip:

Varese is a city in Lombardy, 55km north of Milan and close to Lake Maggiore. It is rich in castles, villas and gardens, many connected with the Borromeo family, who were from the area. Lake Varese is 8.5km long, set in low rolling hills just below Varese. Many visitors to the city are drawn to the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.

More reading:

Giorgio de Chirico's scuola metafisica

The Futurist art of Carlo CarrĂ 

Flaminio Bertoni - sculptor from Varese who turned his talents to car design

Also on this day:

1859: The birth of coffee maker Luigi Lavazza

1966: The birth of footballer Alessandro Costacurta


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