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Fornasetti’s muse, Opera singer Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944) / Alamy

Hailing from Italy’s design capital, Milan, Piero Fornasetti was a painter, draughtsman, printer, engraver, decorator, and designer. Though he grew up in the period of Liberty and Art Novueau that captivated Europe in the early 20th Century, the essence of his work focused on lines and the imagination, which was in contrast with the romantic, fluid styles of the time. He said, “I am a stickler for details who loves uncertainty”, a quote encompassing Fornasetti’s duality for structure and creativity.  

Being a graphic artist first and foremost, as a boy, Fornasetti was known to be constantly drawing, and his childhood bedroom walls were said to be covered in trompe l’oeil illustrations of hot air balloons, architectural elements, and female figures. Not only a master of design, Fornasetti was also a self-proclaimed hoarder and collector with an interest in antiquity, curios and antique iconography. He surrounded himself with collections of glasses, books, and ephemera, having a particularly keen interest in printed paraphernalia ranging from playing cards to old labels, which in addition to the subject of his childhood drawings would later be recognisable in his iconic designs.  

Dec Art Auctions at Leonard Joel
Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988)
An Umbrella Stand, Circa 1950
Sold for $1,464

Fornasetti’s early works included printed scarves and paintings, and it was not until meeting and collaborating with architect and designer Gio Ponti in the 1940s that his designs moved into furniture and interiors. The pair created one of Fornasetti’s most timeless and coveted designs, the Architettura Trumeau. After his fruitful collaboration with Ponti, Fornasetti proceeded to create an array of new productions including trays, lamps, screens, plates, umbrella stands, and office accessories, all featuring his bold graphics. His most recognizable works, however, are from his Tema E Variazioni series which were created in the 1950s and are still prevalent today. This iconic series features the polymorphous face of Fornasetti’s muse Lina Cavalieri, the 19th Century operatic legend who was considered the most beautiful woman in the world at the height of her fame. Commonly found adorning plates, her face is found transformed no fewer than 350 times throughout the series and can often been seen highlighted in interior design magazines and journals.

For those who are more inclined towards wearable art and design, you will be pleased to know that Fornasetti and Louis Vuitton have just launched a collaborative line of a limited-edition of accessories and clothing. The line features over 1600 designs; playful editions highlighting the best elements of both companies: the LV monogram and Fornasetti’s architectural and classical inspired graphics. 

CHIARA CURCIO / Head of Decorative Arts

November 2021

Banner: Plates from the Tema E Variazioni series, displayed at the Fornasetti designer di interni store, Milan, Italy / Alamy