The Artwork of Piero Fornasetti
Born in Milan, Italy in November of 1913, Piero Fornasetti was an eclectic artist who was an important figure in the Italian design scene. A prolific creator of designs, he was involved in many aesthetic disciplines including painting, drawing, graphic design, and product design. In the course of his career, Fornasetti created over ten thousand works and was responsible for one of the largest outputs of diverse objects and furniture of the twentieth-century.
The first child of a wealthy family, Fornasetti was already at the age of ten drawing and displaying an innate inclination towards art. In 1932, he enrolled at the Academia di Brera, Milan’s public academy of fine arts; however, two years later he was expelled for insubordination. Although he applied to Milan’s Superior School of Arts Applied to Industry, Fornasetti was unable to adhere to the schools dogma due to his rebellious nature.
Beginning in the early 1930s, Piero Fornasetti began a individual and comprehensive study of engraving and printing techniques. With this knowledge and his developed technical skill, he began to print artist books and lithographs for many of the great artists of the time, including composer and playwright Alberto Savinio, painter Fabrizio Clerici, and painter and writer Giorgio de Chirico. The Fornasetti Art Printshop became the source of quality printing for many artists of his generation. Fornasetti, through his constant experimentation, later developed a printing method for graphic effects on silk; this innovation brought him to the attention of designer and publisher Gio Ponti, with whom Fornasetti would develop a close creative partnership.
From the early 1940s and onward, Fornasetti produced a vast series of limited edition graphic works, which included calendars, holiday gifts, and images for advertising, theater, posters, and publications. He produced sketches and drawings for the Esino Lario School of Tapestry, whose fine silk tapestries were produced by local village girls. In 1940 Fornasetti began to publish his own work in the architectural design magazine Domus, and for two years designed a series of almanacs for Gio Ponti. Taking refuge in Switzerland in 1943 during the war, he continued his graphic work, expanding into watercolors, oil portraits, drawings in ink, and the creation of theatrical sets for Albert Camus’s 1938 “Caligula”.
Upon his return to Milan, Piero Fornasetti and Gio Ponti began a close creative partnership which centered on architectural concepts in design and decoration. With the beginning of the 1950s, they put their theories into practice developing new simple and functional designs for the interiors of homes, apartments, cinemas and even ship cabins. Their initial project, the “Architettura” trumeau, a furniture design concept seen in an image above, was exhibited at the 1951 Triennale IX in Milan. This piece of furniture became an icon of Italian design in the interwar years of economic growth.
Fornasetti is best known for his designs using fanciful motifs such as the moon, sun, playing cards, animals, and other surrealist imagery; most of which were executed in black and white. In 1952, he began work on his iconic and best known series, “Tema a Variazioni (Theme and Variations)”, a facial portrait of opera singer Lina Cavalieri, who was renowned at the time as a true archetype of a classical beauty. This image continues to appear today on a series of everyday objects from porcelain and fabrics to furniture and wall coverings. This portrait series entered into the world of theater as set designs in Fornasetti’s production of Mozart’s two-act opera, “Don Giovanni”. These designs were used in the December 2016 performances at Milan’s Teatro dell’ Arte and in the January 2017 performances at Florence’s Teatro della Pergola.
In 1970, Piero Fornasetti, along with a group of friends, operated the Galleria dei Bibliofili, where he exhibited his own work and the work of other contemporary artists. His paintings at this time contained both layered abstractions, with interacting colors done in various techniques, and figurative works done in a new pictorial style, where bodies and faces were composed of fruits and bottles. After the death of Gio Ponti in 1979 and the opening of London’s “Themes and Variations” design gallery in 1980, Fornasetti’s work and his idealogical concepts of form/function gained new interest both at home and abroad.
Piero Fornasetti died in October of 1988 during a minor operation in hospital. In 2013, Silvana Annicchiarico, the director of the Triennale Design Museum, dedicated a first retrospective of Fornasetti’s work at the museum; this exhibition later went on tour to Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza. A 1987 collaboration between Fornasetti and fashion writer and publisher Patrick Mauriés, which became a monograph entitled “Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams”, was published posthumously in 2015 with an introduction by Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass. Piero Fornasetti’s work can be seen in the collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Note” An example of the range of Piero Fornasetti’s oeuvre can be found at the online Fornasetti website located at: https://www.fornasetti.com/bd/en/