Lucio’s closure offers rare opportunity for collectors

After 38 years Lucio’s restaurant closes its doors and auctions off its unique Australian art collection.

Words: Rose of Sharon Leake

To say that Lucio’s restaurant in Paddington will be missed is a great understatement. Due to close its doors for good at the end of the week, Lucio’s has become more than a two hatted, multi-award winning restaurant – it has become an institution in the Australian art world. For more than 38 years, Lucio Galletto, OAM, with his wife Sally and children Matteo and Michela, has run the restaurant as a go-to destination for great food, wine and art.

For Lucio, art and food go hand in hand, having grown up in a restaurant in a small town in Italy which ran an art gallery in the summer months. “I grew up with lots of artists around,” Lucio tells me. “As a young man I was interested in talking to the artists. For me it was my window into art. I love artists because I learn from them every time I talk to them, I learn about life. And then, of course, I love their art.”

The now-famous art collection at Lucio’s is founded on friendship and the genuine relationships Lucio has formed with Australian artists. “It started with a little drawing by Sidney Nolan, who was dining one night, on a docket book,” says Lucio. “I was so honoured and impressed that I framed it in gold leaf. Other artists started to come in and saw the care that I took with the work, so started to give me paintings.”

Today, Lucio’s collection has grown to include some of the great Australian artists we know and love, from Sidney Nolan and John Olsen, to Tim Storrier and Luke Sciberras. The tucked away Paddington terrace has been the scene of some of art world’s most memorable moments, from after parties to artist quarrels, and Lucio has a story for them all.

So why has Lucio decided to close his doors? “We’re getting tired!” he tells me. “My wife and I thought that 38 years was just enough, also the building needs a big renovation and we don’t feel comfortable investing a lot of money in that.” But rest assured, Lucio does provide some hope: “We’re not going to retire. We’ll do something else with the children, we just don’t know what that will be yet.”

As for the future of the restaurants extensive art collection, Lucio has tasked Bonhams auctioneer house in Woollahra to sell (almost) the entire collection. “Lucio’s has been the go-to venue for the Australian art world for so long,” says Merryn Schriever, a frequenter of Lucio’s and art specialist at Bonhams. “It’s such an enormous privilege to auction Lucio’s collection. It’s sad but we’re approaching it as a celebration.”

What can collectors expect to see among the 200 works set go live at auction on 21 March 2021? “There are some substantial and valuable pieces, such as a drawing of a very particular Lucio’s tomato salad by Colin Lanceley, who we don’t see at auction very often,” she tells me. “Many of the works are about the experience of dining at Lucio’s: scenes of a party held by Tim Storrier, or John Olsen’s retrospective after party. The works are connected to really important moments.”

When I ask Lucio how he feels about auctioning his collection he chuckles. “I’m crying! No no, I’m happy – it’s the life of a painting, it goes in different homes in different places.”

Yet there is a mutual melancholy feeling around Lucio’s closure and the dispersal of it’s unique art collection. “We’re all losing our club house,” says Merryn. “Who will put up with the terrible behaviour of artists without Lucio?!”

For more information about the upcoming auction of Lucio’s collection Food, Art & Friendship, visit bonhams.com.

Image: Lucio Galletto standing in front of his plate collection. Courtesy: Bonham’s Woollahra.

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