Furniture & Decorative Arts

Milanese Modern

NEW YORK, NY -- Born into the Milanese bourgeoisie in 1913, Piero Fornasetti was destined for a career in the arts. He was self-taught prior to enrolling at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, among Milan’s elite art schools and was appalled to learn the curriculum excluded instruction in drawing the nude form. Fornasetti left the Accademia in 1932 and received a grant to travel through Italy and Africa to further his education.

Upon his return to Italy, Fornasetti designed a collection of printed silk scarves which caught the attention of Gio Ponti, one of Italy’s foremost designers. Ponti and Fornasetti collaborated together throughout the 1940s, chiefly on Ponti’s magazine, Domus, designing covers depicting surreal and metaphysical imagery.

The 1960s brought Rationalism to Italy against which Fornasetti rebelled. Reacting to the trend he, with fellow artists, founded the Galleria del Bibliofili. It was established as an exhibition venue and a space for artists to exercise their unique visions. Fornasetti believed in the Classical ideal that any good artist must know how to depict the nude human form while simultaneously rejecting Art’s ‘-isms,’ urging artists to express their creativity. He stated:

The words Renaissance, Classicism do not exist. They are confusing…they are inventions. Only good drawing exists. To draw like Pollaiolo, like Masaccio…this is good drawing…This is a fixation that I fight, that of labels. Surrealism, Neo-Realism, Romantic, Post-Modern…An artist who wants to be successful is no longer an artist he is a person who wants to have success. If he conforms to fashion, he will arrive late because by now everyone has already conformed. Therefore, perhaps, the idea is not to conform but to be original.

Fornasetti unquestionably valued originality – he believed that imagination was fundamental to his process. And yet he also appreciated tangible muses saying, “nothing is too esoteric to be used as inspiration.” He cited Roman art and architecture (Lot 253), African fabrics, the human form, everyday objects (Lot 250) and fin-de-siecle opera singer Lina Cavalieri (of whose likeness he produced 350 unique images throughout his career), among the many sources that fueled his creativity.

For all of his originality, reproductions were a significant part of Fornasetti’s process as he always intended for his work to be produced in series’. He would replicate a singular idea among a range of items such as wallpaper, lamp bases (Lot 247, Lot 248, Lot 251), umbrella stands (Lot 254), chairs (Lot 249) and paneled screens, among countless others. Additionally, Fornasetti refused to number any limited editions he produced because he felt that all of his creations were equal in value, whether they were the first or thousandth in a series. He was a true devotee of mass-production.

Barnaba Fornasetti, Piero’s son, was born in the 1950s and followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the atelier in the 1980s. When the elder Fornasetti passed away in 1988 he left behind some 13,000 objects and this extensive archive provided his son the opportunity to continue his legacy. In 1996, Barnaba Fornasetti opened a new showroom in Milan for the Fornasetti brand and in 2013 he organized the exhibition, “100 Years of Practical Madness,” which showcased over 1,000 Fornasetti designs at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan. Barnaba says of his father’s legacy:

My father designed a kind of creative system that can still be used today and in the future. It’s a method of using images from the past, from all over the world, that are already stored in our brains, then reusing and recycling them in different ways while putting your own identity into it as well...It’s something old-fashioned and very fashionable. It’s not modern or antique. It’s not surreal, but it is...It’s everything and nothing at the same time.

The Fornasetti objects in Doyle’s June 7 Doyle+Design sale demonstrate the range of inspirations the designer utilized and the assortment of items he produced. These lots are delightful examples of the high-quality objects produced in the hub of modern design in the mid-twentieth century.

-- Megan Marie Mastrobattista, Furniture & Decorative Arts

Kirkham, Pat and Susan Weber. History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400-2000. (New York: The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, 2013).
Mauries, Patrick. Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams. (Thames & Hudson, 1991).
McKeough, Tim. “100 Years of Practical Madness Surveys Piero Fornasetti.” Architectural Digest, October 31, 2013.
Slesin, Suzanne. “Piero Fornasetti, 74, Artist, Dies; Created Bols Furniture and China.” The New York Times, October 21, 1988.


The Doyle+Design auction on June 7, 2017 offers a selection of objects by Piero Fornasetti comprising lots 246-254.

Portrait of specialist Todd Sell
Senior Vice President / Appraiser, Silver, Furniture & Decorations
Furniture & Decorative Arts
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