Born in 1933 in Piovene Rocchette, near Vicenza, Italy, Valentino moved with his family to the town of Thiene at the age of five. There he was raised in a world of food, wine, art and music.
His passion for opera had an early start. At the age of six, the artist played Trouble in a local production of Madama Butterfly. He was soon attending opera recitals at the open-air theatre in Verona, making the 90km journey by bicycle.
His gifts for line and composition were evident from an early age. At 11, he was awarded first prize in a portrait competition organised by Professor Guerra from Trasche Conca. By 14, he was creating posters and labels for Distillery S. Giorgio of Bassano del Grappa.
Valentino’s family ran a hotel and by the time he moved to London in his twenties, he knew enough about wine to find work as a sommelier at Club 21. There, he was exposed to the world’s finest wines, becoming an expert in Bordeaux and Burgundy and cultivating a lifelong passion for Château d’Yquem. By the mid 1980s Valentino’s expertise saw him rise to Head Sommelier at the legendary Harry’s Bar.
Immersed in the world of wine, Valentino never stopped making art. He would leave the restaurant and retreat to the peace of his studio, often working through the night. He worked in oils (completing a large scale rendition of Dante’s Inferno) and designed the scenery for two musicals before starting to paint symphonies, and arias in opera which related to wine. He began to incorporate the tools of his trade – wine labels – into his art.
In 1986, a commission to create a mural prompted Valentino to experiment with collages comprised of wine labels. Cutting out and arranging the figures in incredible detail, his signature method was established.
Said Valentino: “All of my pictures are composed of shapes carefully cut from wine labels: the people, the flowers, even the lines, are carefully cut from different wine labels. There is no drawing or painting involved at all.”
Valentino’s work began to win the support of prominent artists including Gueri da Santomio, Piero Annigoni, Emma Sergeant, and John Ward. Two of his wine label collages were short listed for the Royal Academy of Art’s summer exhibition, many others were shown annually at Christie’s and five were commissioned by Avery’s of Bristol.
In 1990 Valentino had his maiden exhibition at the Ergon Gallery, an event opened by former Arts minister David Mellor.
In 2002, the National Gallery held an exhibition of Valentino’s work to mark the launch of his epic book project Opera & Wine: Wine in Opera, a work 20 years in the making. On display were 31 of the 70 original collages printed in the book, for which Luciano Citeroni produced the text.
In 2009, a conference was held at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Experts in the field of art wine and music held a discussion on Valentino’s work.
In May 2011, the artist was awarded a prize for Excellence at the Lyric Theatre in Thiene, Italy.
The work of Valentino Monticello is now held in prestigious private collections around the world.