The Ceccato Collection

by Simon Andrews

Whilst at the helm of LAMA, Peter Loughrey had the opportunity to showcase some of the rarest and most significant examples of American design, building experience and knowledge that skillfully guided curators and collectors alike. Italian design also proved to be an area of special and personal interest for Peter and Shannon, who quietly and diligently began to accumulate a world-class collection of some of the most important works by Gio Ponti and his circle. Their recognition of this material, very often coming on to the market for the first time, and direct from the original commissioning families, was guided by true scarcity. 

Anchoring this auction is a highly significant group of unique furnishings designed by Gio Ponti for the Ceccato family of Milan. Owners of the Dulciora confectionary empire, the Ceccato commissions undertaken during 1949-1950 comprised of a retail store, the company office, and the family’s private apartment on via Monferrato, Milan. 

The entry for Casa Ceccato featured a wall by Edina Altara as featured in Domus, no. 256, March 1951.

The importance of this latter commission held significance on several levels. Whilst this was amongst the first of several significant post-war interiors to be undertaken by Ponti, it proved to be his most resolved, most sumptuous, and most comprehensive to date. To realise his ambitious vision, Ponti commissioned talented artists to include Piero Fornasetti, Paolo De Poli, and Edina Altara to assist with decorative aspects that incorporated lithographic surface decoration, enamelled copper accents, and verre églomisé wall paneling. The furniture was executed by Ponti’s dedicated cabinetmaker Giordano Chiesa, and employed dramatic use of Ferrera walnut selected to compliment the matching wall surfaces. Ponti skilfully united these diverse talents within a modern atelier, charged with delivering a uniquely bespoke concept to a discerning client.

Whilst this was amongst the first of several significant post-war interiors to be undertaken by Ponti, it proved to be his most resolved, most sumptuous, and most comprehensive to date. 

The Ceccato trumeau can be justified as one of the most important and precious of all of Ponti’s designs. Delivered to the original client in 1950, it was to feature heavily in an extensive and richly photographed article for Domus magazine. The cabinet, together with all other furnishings from the apartment then faded from sight, never again seen in public or published. Eventually, in the summer of 2005 a chance phone call lead me to the post-war suburbs of Milan. The historic Ceccato apartment had been dismantled in the 1980s, and perfectly recreated for the now-elderly owners in their final home on the bright upper floor of a modern tower block. 

These are the stories of forgotten treasure that we all dream of. I knew that Peter and Shannon were no different, so was delighted when they were able to secure many of the highlights from the Ceccato Collection when sold at auction in London in March 2006. When one is passionate about objects and their histories, one cares deeply about where they go next. These are rare objects, historic artefacts that skillfully communicate both on behalf of their creator, and of their moment in time. The narrative of successive care and ownership is important. Peter knew and understood this, and was fortunate to have made a career out of this passion. For the objects that he and Shannon lived with, these masterpieces from the Ceccato Collection included, there could have been no more perfect and appreciative guardians. 

Enchantment, a useless thing,
but as indispensable as bread.

Gio Ponti

Birth of the Modern

Peter Loughrey was a talented pioneer motivated by a restless enthusiasm, crucially driven by the willingness to communicate, to share and to discover. An intuitive feel for the burgeoning interest in post-war design led Peter to establish the nascent LA Modern Auctions in 1992 — soon to evolve into the very first dedicated auction platform of its type. Although the initial turnover those first years was modest, LAMA’s impact and resonance was to spearhead a new era of collecting. With these auctions Peter, together with his wife and co-director Shannon, swiftly developed an interactive platform for what was evolving as an increasingly globalised tide of enthusiasts, dealers, curators and collectors. His auctions became a raison d’être, justification to what many of us were at the time tentatively yet willingly exploring. Here, in these auctions, post-war design was spot-lit centre stage, and celebrated as a movement in its own right.

If these initial auctions consolidated and gave focus to the market, then they also gave us an identity — achieved very simply through the semantics of the company that celebrated ‘modern’. A simple and obvious choice, but so influential and less cumbersome than the prevailing options of "twentieth century" or "post-war." Auctions at that time were traditionally associated with antiques, and there was a general disinterest within the trade to consider anything less than seventy years old as having any cultural or collectible value. Although this market had been described as being "modern" for some years already in the US, the word had not yet been internationalised beyond American shores to represent a collecting movement.

LAMA was established at exactly the right time. The zeitgeist was perfect, and helped guide many of us. Around this time I returned from the US and was shortly set to curate my first design auctions for Christie’s in London. Peter’s catalogues during this explorative period were invaluable. Perhaps difficult to understand now, in our era of immediate communication, but the fully illustrated printed LAMA catalogues were the equivalent of a fanzine that would be passed around, photocopied and then memorised. Nowhere else at the time was contained the detailed information that could allow us, many thousands of miles away in London, to distinguish between an early or a late example of, say, an Eames LCW, or to be exposed to the furniture of Schindler or Neutra. And crucially, there were prices. The prices meant that the market was real. And every so often there would be something in Peter’s sales — a trophy lying in wait for the knowledgeable — that would yield a revolutionary price, setting new records and issuing concentric ripples that gave us the confidence to recognise that our passion for this material was no daydream.

Peter had the fortune to discover his calling, and the certainty to pursue it, his delight for discovery underpinned by curatorial seriousness. Together with Shannon, LAMA established a keystone in the foundations of the modern market, flag-bearers of international design and with a global message. Today LAMA co-anchors a dedicated and influential network of US auction sites, all specialised graduates of that early era of modern discovery. A shared mission is always the most pleasurable, so thank you Peter, for helping guide the way.

Simon Andrews
Curator and advisor
Andrews Art Advisory

Gio Ponti

Gio Ponti excelled at painting as a child and expressed a fervent interest in the arts. Feeling that a career in architecture was preferable to that of a painter, Ponti’s parents encouraged him to pursue the former and in 1914 he enrolled at the Faculty of Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano. His studies were interrupted by war, and in 1915 he was forced to postpone his education. He served as a captain in the Pontonier Corps until 1919, earning multiple military honors. After graduating in 1921, Ponti married Giulia Vimercati, the daughter of local aristocracy and started an architecture firm. During this time, Ponti aligned himself with the neoclassical movement, Novecento and championed a revival of the arts and culture. In 1928, Ponti founded Domus, a periodical tailored to artists and designers, as well as the broader public. A shift occurred in the 1930s when Ponti took up a teaching post at his alma mater, the Politecnico di Milano. In search of new methods to express Italian modernity, Ponti distanced himself from the sentiments of Novecento and sought to reconcile art and industry. Together with the engineers, Eugenio Soncini and Antonio Fornaroli, Ponti enjoyed great success in the industrial sector, securing various commissions throughout Italy. In the 1950s, he gained international fame with the design of the Pirelli Tower in Milan and he was asked to be a part of the urban renewal of Baghdad, collaborating with top architects from around the world. His 1957 book, Amate l’architettura, is considered to be a microcosm of his work —an incredible legacy spanning art, architecture, industrial design, publishing and academia.

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Auction Results Gio Ponti