Massimo Vitali: Photography and the Art of Summer

Massimo Vitali, “Coney Water.” Sold on October 1, 2014 for $37,500 via Phillips.

As the art world flees urban landscapes in search of sun-soaked vistas in August, there is one contemporary photographer whose work epitomizes the essence of the season’s leisure activity. Born in the lakeside village of Como, Italy in 1944, Italian photographer Massimo Vitali draws on his experience in photojournalism and cinematography to capture expansive beach landscapes that depict anonymous figures basking in the hot summer sun.

But there’s more than what meets the eye when it comes to his idyllic seascapes. Vitali responded to the political upheaval in Italy in the 1940s, and launched his beach series in the mid-1990s as political commentary on mass tourism and social complacency. While Vitali’s photographs appear to depict the paradisal appearance of each location he captures, his work is actually centered on the individuals featured in the composition and their collective response to society. Here, our editors take a closer look at Vitali’s work and recent auction results. 

Who is Massimo Vitali?

After attending the London College of Printing for photography, Massimo Vitali worked as a photojournalist for various European magazines and agencies in the 1960s. Due to a belief that photographs lacked the ability to capture the true reality of the image, his career took a turn toward cinematography in the 1980s. Despite this shift, his passion for photography remained with him and he continued working in the medium as a “means of artistic research.”

Following Italy’s political turbulence in the 1990s, Vitali packed his equipment and headed to the coast with the goal of capturing the reactions of beachgoers during this tense period. There, his iconic landscapes were shot from high vantage points, capturing not just the expansive view itself, but individuals basking in them as well. Using the beach as a platform for social research, Vitali sought to photograph sunbathers at their most vulnerable in order to document society in its most authentic state.

The majority of the artist’s body of work captures tourist destinations in Italy, as he preserves the idea that taking quality photos doesn’t necessarily require traveling outside of your local community. Some of the famous locations immortalized in Vitali’s work include Spargi Cala Corsara, Cala Mariolu, Porto Miggiano, and Cefalù, Viareggio, however Vitali has since expanded past the borders of Italy to vacation spots in Brazil, Greece, Turkey, and Spain.

Massimo Vitali Prices

Since the inception of his iconic beach series, Vitali has continued to explore natural surroundings, but instead has focused on the impact of human disturbance on nature. In contrast to his coastal scenes, Vitali focuses less on the pleasure and leisure of individuals and instead on the complex relationship between humans and their impact on their environment. His most recent series entitled “Disturbed Coastal Systems” (April 2017), reveals an implicit message of the built tension between man and nature. Whether focused on a crowded beach or a modest group of swimmers, Vitali’s message remains steadfast as he strives to examine what he calls the conflict between man and nature.”

In today’s market, Massimo Vitali photographs can fetch around $12,500, and many of the artist’s works come in an edition of three, four, five or six. His most expensive piece ever sold is “Resignano” (2004), which hammered for a staggering $151,000 at Phillips in 2008. Below, explore ten of the most expensive Vitali works to sell in the last decade. 

10. Massimo Vitali, “Rosignano Solvay Beach 1,” 1998

Auction House: Artcurial (Paris, France)
Sale Date:
June 1, 2010
Price Realized: €15,300

9. Massimo Vitali, “Viareggio Sun One,” 1995

Auction House: Phillips (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
October 6, 2016
Price Realized: $23,750

8. Massimo Vitali, “Coney Water (#2313),” 2006

Auction House: Phillips (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
October 1, 2014
Price Realized: $37,500

7. Massimo Vitali, “Tropea Shadow (#4874), Calabria, Italy,” 2015

Massimo Vitali, Tropea Shadow (#4874), Calabria, Italy

Auction House: Bonham’s (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
April 25, 2017
Price Realized:

6. Massimo Vitali, “Portfolio of Landscapes with Figures,” 2006

Auction House: Sotheby’s (London, United Kingdom)
Sale Date:
May 23, 2015
Realized Price: £37,500

5. Massimo Vitali, Amadores (Triptych),” 2004

Massimo Vitali triptych of beach scenes
Auction House: Christie’s (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
March 6, 2014
Price Realized: $50,000

4. Massimo Vitali, “Coney Island Triptych (#2328/2329/2330),” 2006

Auction House: Sotheby’s (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
April 3, 2016
Realized Price: $52,500

3. Massimo Vitali, “Viareggio (polyptych),” 2000

Auction House: Artcurial (Paris, France)
Sale Date:
April 8, 2008
Realized Price: €73,113

2. Massimo Vitali, “Picnic Allée,” 2000

Auction House: Phillips (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
April 4, 2017
Realized Price: $81,250

1. Massimo Vitali, “Rosignano (diptych),” 2004

Auction House: Phillips, (New York, New York)
Sale Date:
March 21, 2008
Realized Price: $151,000

Explore works by Massimo Vitali available now on Invaluable.