As the appetite for surrealism grows, the Independent Fair introduces the public to painter Stanislao Lepri, lover of Leonor Fini

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The magical world of the Italian surrealist Stanislao Lepri (1905-80) is filled with hybrid creatures, tumbling towers and apocalyptic scenarios that seem oddly contemporary.

The artist is the subject of a solo presentation by Milan’s Galleria Tommaso Calabro at the Independent 20th Century art fair, which opened September 8 at Casa Cipriani in New York. The new company focuses on the overlooked artists of modernism and lesser-known works by masters such as Giorgio de Chirico and Joan Miró.

Lepri, who gave up a diplomatic career to pursue his passion for surrealist artist Leonor Fini, fits the bill perfectly. His last solo show in New York was at the Iolas Gallery in 1970. According to this, only 127 lots by Lepri were auctioned off to the Artnet Price Database. The most expensive was $26,400 in 2007. Most have traded for less than $10,000.

An exhibition by Stanislao Lepri at the Independent 20th Century art fair. Photo: Galleria Tommaso Calabro

This minimal market activity may be a result of Lepri’s late arrival on the surrealist scene. He was not part of the original movement and much of his early language is derived from other artists, including Fini, Max Ernst and René Magritte, according to David Fleiss of the Paris gallery 1900-2000, which specializes in Surrealism and Dada. “There’s something for everyone.”

As the new generation of young contemporary artists embrace Surrealism – with prices soaring into the millions for work relatively fresh from the studio – dealers are keen to rediscover historical work, which can cost significantly less.

“There’s so much value,” said Elizabeth Dee, the fair’s founder.

Second-generation art world insiders, including independent exhibitors Joseph Nahmad and Alma Luxembourg, are “deeply interested in discovering new material because they are so invested in modernism,” Dee said. “Markets will be moved because of the advocacy of this generation.”

Stanislao Lepri, Le Createur des anges (1969). Photo: Katya Kazakina.

Lepri’s career is rebounding thanks to his association with Fini, whose market has also been overlooked until recently. As museums and collectors seek to diversify their holdings, female modernists have gained prominence and value. This year, Fini – a painter, illustrator, designer and author – was among the stars of the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, which was rooted in the unsung female artists of the Surrealist movement. 2021 Fini’s self-portrait from 1938, Autoportrait in Scorpiofetched $2.3 million at auction, nearly four times its high estimate of $800,000.

Fini’s sudden popularity has helped Lepri, a curious reversal of a broader power dynamic in which women benefit from their connections with more successful men. Fini and Lepri became lovers in the 1940s. After moving to Paris together in 1946, the couple was soon joined by a Polish writer Constantine Jelenski. The trio spent the rest of their lives together in one menage a trois or, in contemporary parlance, a throuple. Even in death they are inseparable, buried in the same grave outside the French capital.

Art dealer Tommaso Calabro brought 15 works to the fair, where they cost between $40,000 and $80,000. Two paintings were pre-sold and one found a buyer during the VIP preview.

“He developed a series of images that were his own,” said Tommaso Calabro. “There was a play between animal and human forms. Rhinos were his alter ego.” This unique vocabulary sets him apart from his Surrealist predecessors, he added.

It seems that prices for Lepri are already moving. an early work, L’homme au visage craquelé (1953), Fetched $25,171 at Sotheby’s London in May, the artist’s second highest auction price. The Independent costs $45,000 for the same job. It has yet to find a buyer.

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