Design & Decoration S01 ep1: Jean-Luca Baroni, Clonaghi Gallery, [London]
Interview with Jean-Luca Baroni
When I see work of others that moves me, I feel fantastic - you get that kind of feeling and I think, I'm sure, the fact that it makes you feel really alive is very important, very important because you want to know that, and you don't feel that all the time.
When I see work of others that moves me, I feel fantastic – you get that kind
of feeling and I think, I’m sure, the fact that it makes you feel really alive is
very important, very important because you want to know that, and you don’t
feel that all the time.
KM: What is Colnaghi?
Colnaghi is a master painter and drawings gallery. The company was started in
1760. I think it’s actually that is the oldest gallery running.
Colnaghi is an Italian name. The name is from Bustarfizio from around Milan.
They started the business in Paris and then they went into partnership with an
Englishman then they came over here and they were dealing in scientific
instruments at the beginning. Dominic Colnaghi met Benjamin Franklin who
was passionate about history, and he told him he should open a business in
New York, instead he went to London. And then after some years they
dropped the instrument business and started dealing in prints and throughout
the 19th century Colnaghi became "the" dealer in master prints.
The artist usually does a drawing and transferred usually by incision, incised or
with acid and then they make the print, which is usually in reverse of course
once it is printed.
KM: When did they go from print making to serious fine art?
They started paintings then drawings toward the end of the century, the 19th
My grandfather was a dealer in Paris. He emigrated from Italy in 1919 and
opened a gallery in Paris, which my father took over in the 1950's. When I
started I really did not know what I wanted to do. The first thing I did when I
was there was said, "If I am going to work with my father, I'm going to learn. I
am going to learn something, I want to find out ". So what I did he has quite a
vast library. I looked at every illustration and I did the whole library twice in
one year. At some point, I remember opening a book of the Muse Masee
which had a painting by not a great master, an artist called Pierre Cuget who
worked in France, and who worked in Genoa. I saw this picture and thought,
"but my father has a picture by the same artist which he calls something else".
Then I went and checked and I had made an attribution. Now when you do
that I thought, "That's my business, I love this". Because by making an
attribution you have discovered something. It is the detective work and then of
course eventually it is transformed into cash as well. Obviously, because you
find something, which is nothing, and you put a name on it and you've got a
profit - that is how you do it.
When you see something your brain immediately tell you this information - 17th
century, 18th century or 16th century for instance and then it is northern or
maybe you say, immediate Italian, or you say …..There is something a little bit
awkward about this - Italian; maybe it is a northern artist in Italy. The Style is
important but then you have got technical points. You've got the craquelure?
On a painting, which is well when the paint when it dries over the centuries it
starts cracking and an oil painting, which no craquelure cannot be old, cannot
be over a 100 years old.
KM: What is your favourite period of art?
I'd have to say the Florentine group and if you think of you think of the late part
of the 14th, 15th and 16th century you know you've got Leonardo, you've got
Rafael, you've got Michelangelo. You've got an enormous…. I think that
maybe I don't know whether that is the reason, but surely in the 16th century
you have a concentration of great artists. In fact this is never paralleled in any
I am at a disadvantage when I see some of the contemporary art. Some of it
for instance is very shocking and I don't see the point but maybe that is an
artistic point, which I don't know. I can judge, I believe I can judge an artistic
work of art in the 16th century because you judge from the quality. The quality
of the workmanship and whether it is innovative and whether it actually moves
you when you see it - that is the degree of quality that you have to judge. With
contemporary art is it very different.
One of the pictures that moves me more than any other, is the Holbein Dead
Christ. Oh it is an unbelievable picture. The rendering of the body, of the dead
body - obviously it has been taken from a dead body, there is no doubt about
it. And Christ is .it is a picture that is actually size of this man lying on a slab,
dead. And you see his hand, and his arm you see the veins - and the colour of
the skin is so well rendered you would not believe it, so white but purple and
then one hand is starting to go…
And the colour changes.
And I tell you the way and it’s not just the way it is done but it is the technical
ability to give you this emotion, which is what makes that work a great work of
art. It is something we have not seen before. It is like portraits. There are
portraits especially drawings, by important artists where you can tell the
difference, it is an emotional difference, between a commissioned portrait and
the portrait of a friend. With the more intimate one you can see through the
way he’s drawn it that not only has he the ability, the physical ability, technical
ability to draw but of rendering of what he knows about the person and that is
what makes the difference.
I tend to buy what I like, it doesn't matter whether it is important or not. For me
it is extremely important to buy what I see and I feel for and I see the quality
and I say, "this is what I should buy" and then the price comes after obviously
it is important. That is one of the differences with the auction houses they have
basically they have to take almost everything that is offered to them.
KM: When you have an eye for Old Masters, and you understand the
allegory, you understand the philosophy and you understand the concept, the
time, how do you relate to someone like Duchamp who puts a bottle and says
"that's art". Or to someone like Warhol who does lithography and just makes
posters or tin cans….
Yes but you know if you think… what is the name of that Italian artist who put
the excrement in that Campbell soup can or whatever, who knows, who knows
his name. But wait a minute, you know. I thought, just to tell you, I’m not
prepared and I said what is he doing this guy, you know, is he making fun of
people with something disgusting like this. But as a matter of fact if you think
what this man meant - then I said "wait a minute, let us try to understand what
happened there" Well I think there is something artistic about it.
KM: (laughing) Maybe he just couldn't find a toilet!
No not at all it is much more interesting than that. He felt that art was really
going down the drain at the time and that art was bought by all these
bourgeoisie and that they were so dumb that they were could buy anything.
Anything was going to be art because it was posh - oh this is art, this is great
oh my god. What he did was to show them that, "OK I can do anything and
you are going to take it as art" now that kind of message "is this art or not?" is
certainly a very important social message.
What has happened lately, anything a bit shocking anything is sort of " Oh look
at this great"..So but how do you so how does one judge it whether you like it
KM: No, no no
Surely it just can't be that.
KM: No I mean art
Certainly art for me must be something that gives me a great emotion, a deep
emotion, it must be. I mean when you are in front of a masterpiece like this
painting by, it really, it makes you feel a great emotion, which makes you get in
touch with yourself inside which is what makes you feel alive. So maybe that, I
recognise that, certainly, but equally of course, talking to somebody or a
relationship with somebody can make you feel exactly the same way, so
maybe that is also a definition of art.
KM: Yes but wait a minutes but aren’t we examples of art.
Well yes, I suppose we are, yes, yes.
A work of art should talk to you. You sit down and you just enjoy the feeling
that it gives you. That I think is what a work of art gives you and if it does not
give you that then it is not a work of art but it is very subjective. If I didn't know
about this, you know, this can of shit. (KM laughing) Well I mean you would
say I mean this is ridiculous. Well it is not so stupid - done in the early sixties.
It is actually interesting; it takes guts to do it. (KM laughing – no, it actually
takes food) You know I appreciated that, I felt that this guy was not
completely stupid. You know also it could have ruined his career.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Jean-Luca Baroni, Colnaghi Gallery, London