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Largely Unseen $600 Million Collection Will Join Museum in Italy

Mr. Cerruti’s collection, compiled over seven decades, contains about 300 paintings and sculptures, 200 rare books (including fine hand-bound editions) and 300 pieces of furniture and other decorative objects. He owned some outstanding paintings: Bacon’s 1957 canvas “Study for a Portrait IX” is a postwar highlight, while the 1918 portrait “Woman in a Yellow Dress (La Belle Espagnole)” by Amedeo Modigliani and a group of five rare “Metaphysical” oil paintings by de Chirico from the 1910s are among his early-20th-century Italian works.

Sotheby’s valued the collection at $570 million to $600 million in 2015, considerably more than the $443 million raised in 2009 by the Christie’s auction of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, which at the time was called the “sale of the century.”

Mr. Cerruti kept his art, and ate those Sunday lunches, in the villa he commissioned in the late 1960s, just a 10-minute walk from the Castello di Rivoli, then a war-damaged ruin. The restored Castello opened as a museum in 1984, and the Cerruti villa will be renovated and incorporated as an annex.

A rotating selection of works from the collection will also be shown “in conversation” with contemporary art at the Castello di Rivoli Museum itself, which strikingly combines grand old spaces with state-of-the-art galleries.

“We’re hoping the collection will be a catalyst for cultural developments that reconnect the art of the present with the art of the past,” Ms. Christov-Bakargiev said.


Mr. Cerruti’s collection included a group of five rare “Metaphysical” oil paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, from the 1910s.

Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli-Torino

What appears to be a growing disconnect between present and past is a concern of those invested in historical art. Paintings by old masters, for example, are not as popular among wealthy private collectors as they once were, prompting auction houses to come up with increasingly inventive (some might say desperate) ways to make the old feel new. Last week Christie’s sold a Francesco Guardi painting of Venice with help from a video of it sailing on a barge down the Grand Canal; last month Sotheby’s used New York street artists to promote a sale of old masters.

Admittedly, Mr. Cerruti was from a generation that did not buy 21st-century art. His last major purchase was an 1897 Renoir, “Jeune Fille aux Roses,” at Sotheby’s in June 2014 for 842,500 pounds, or about $1.4 million at the time.

“He was very unusual in the way that he collected art from the 13th century to contemporary,” said Giovanni Sarti, a dealer based in Paris who first encountered Mr. Cerruti in 1992, at the Paris Biennale. Mr. Sarti, then based in London, said he was showing a painting by the medieval Florentine artist Gherardo Starnina, priced at about $1.4 million. Mr. Cerruti admired the work but did not add it to his collection.

“He always regretted not buying that painting,” Mr. Sarti said, adding that he later sold a different work by Starnina to Mr. Cerruti for a similar price.

Over the years, Mr. Sarti and his wife, Claire, were among the small group of trusted advisers with whom Mr. Cerruti discussed potential purchases. Mrs. Sarti, a granddaughter of the French Surrealist poet Paul Éluard and his wife, Gala, who later married Salvador Dalí, advised the collector on modern art.

“He was not an easy person,” Mr. Sarti said. “In the morning, we would make plans, then in the evening he would change everything. He was difficult, but once he had decided, he would pay within 24 hours. Financially, he was very solid. His life was work and collecting. He was a true collector.”

Mr. Cerruti had trained as an accountant and went on to found a commercial binding business.

When buying in Italy, he benefited from a Mussolini-vintage regulation prohibiting the permanent export of artworks more than 50 years old officially designated as having cultural interest. These works could not be sold on the international market.

In 2011 Mr. Cerruti bought a portrait by the admired Florentine Mannerist Pontormo depicting a man holding a book. Dating from the 1540s, the oil-on-panel had been offered to him by the Milan dealer Carlo Orsi.


A portrait of a man holding a book, by Pontormo, a Florentine Mannerist.

Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli-Torino

“He asked, ‘Is it valuable?’” Mr. Orsi recalled. “I told him it was rare and he would find the price very convenient. It was a great deal for him.”

Mr. Cerruti lent the painting for the 2014 exhibition “Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism,” at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. The 2011 price of 2 million euros, or about $2.8 million at the time, is an interesting contrast with the $48 million paid for the Pontormo portrait acquired privately in Britain in 2015 by the New York hedge fund manager and collector J. Tomilson Hill, who also buys across historical periods.

But does the Cerruti collection have the potential to open eyes that seldom stray beyond the white cubes of contemporary galleries?

The Castello di Rivoli Museum intends to integrate works from the Cerruti collection into its changing contemporary displays, rather than keep old and new separate, as would have been the case in a Metropolitan Museum of Art wing devoted to Modern and contemporary works — had plans for it not been postponed.

Thanks to the solitary lunches of a reclusive telephone book magnate, Turin may become a city where the art of the present and the art of the past talk to each other.

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