Italian artist and designer Piero Fornasetti will forever be remembered for his vast output of highly collectible art pieces, all of which seamlessly blend function and flair.
Italy has certainly produced more than its fair share of renowned artists and designers, but Piero Fornasetti assuredly stands out as one of the most prolific of the bunch. He created well over 11,000 art objects in his lifetime, all of which bear the mark of his distinctive, highly original style – a contemporary blend of fantasy, poetic humour, and timeless beauty.
Born in Milan in 1913, Piero was the eldest son from a well-heeled, middle-class family. By the age of 10 his interest and ability in art was already apparent, and he spent much of his free time drawing landscapes and portraits, and sketching out fanciful architectural designs. When he began painting, his inspirations came from Renaissance-era masters such as Piero della Francesca and Giotto, as well as the classical frescoes of antiquity, most notably the ones found in the ancient ruins of Pompeii.
He went on to study at the Accademia di Brera and the Scuola Superiore of Applied Arts at Castello Sforzesco – both in Milan – but his rebellious nature and restless spirit made him unable to adhere to the strict dogma these schools imposed. In the early 1930s, he turned his attention and immense technical skill to engraving and printing techniques, and soon his newly established Fornasetti Art Printshop was producing artist books and lithographs for some of the greatest artists of that time; names such as Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio, and Fabrizio Clerici.
During this decade he also experimented constantly with different printing methods, and eventually stumbled upon a unique way to produce graphic effects on silk scarves. This new discovery caught the attention of Gio Ponti – an acclaimed architect, industrial designer, furniture designer, writer and publisher – setting the stage for what would soon become a very close creative partnership between the two men.
The pair worked on several projects in the early 1940s, before the escalation of WWII forced Piero to flee to Switzerland in 1943. On his return to Milan, he and Gio embarked on a series of projects revolving around designs and furnishings for interiors, which encompassed everything from houses and apartments, to ocean liner cabins and cinemas.
In the 1950s, Piero launched Fornasetti, the design and decorative arts atelier in Milan that bears his name. During this same period he began work on what would become his most iconic series, the Tema e Variazioni (‘Themes & Variations’). His starting point for this series would be the portrait of a woman, and for his muse he chose the face of Lina Cavalieri, an opera singer who, at the turn of the 20th century, was widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world. To this day her haunting visage can be seen on plates, cabinets, chairbacks, vases, pillows, and a vast array of other objet d’art created by Atelier Fornasetti.
Although the popularity of Fornasetti’s designs waned a bit in the 1970s, a new art gallery opened in London in the 1980s – spearheaded by Liliane Fawcett and Giuliana Medda – dedicated to the artist’s ‘Themes & Variations’. This immediately revived interest in his work, and in 1987 the artist collaborated with Patrick Mauriés on the first comprehensive monograph on his body of work, which would sadly be published posthumously after his death in October of 1988.
It’s no exaggeration to call Piero Fornasetti a true Renaissance man. Not only was he an excellent painter and illustrator, he was also an inventive designer – always stressing creativity in harmony with the utility of an object – and he had a significant influence on fashion as well. Selected companies worldwide, such as Praguekabinet in the Czech Republic, continue to produce editions of his furniture and accessories under licence; referring to historic archives and operating under the supervision of Piero’s son, Barnaba, the Artistic Director of Atelier Fornasetti.
Whether it’s an impressive wooden chest with eight layers of paint, or an exquisite porcelain jar, all these handmade and hand-painted products are the result of careful and painstaking production methods. Each piece of furniture is signed, while rare pieces are numbered and dated as well. With such an importance put on authenticity and craftsmanship, it’s no wonder that these iconic and innovative examples of modern Italian design are coveted by serious art collectors around the globe.
When one ponders the array of decorative items to which Fornasetti applied his unmistakable style, it’s nothing short of astonishing. From hats and coats, to pianos and wallpaper, the iterations are endless. In Thailand, Seasons on Ekkamai Soi 20 is the exclusive dealer of Fornasetti pieces, offering their discerning clientele a carefully curated array of limited-edition plates, candles, tableware and decorative accessories to adorn the home.
For more information, visit Seasons or Instagram @seasonsliving.
This story first appeared on Prestige Thailand.