Apparently, not everybody loves Fornasetti as much as I do. When I proposed this piece to Chris, he made a face and said, “Ew, I don’t care for Fornasetti at all.” Love him or not, Pierro Fornasetti (1913-1988) was the most prolific designer of the 20th century; he is to Italian design what Andy Warhol is to American art — a talented illustrator, a master of appropriation, tireless and relentlessly inventive. Like Warhol, Fornasetti was fascinated by production, fame, culture and appearances. He created a strong visual language (or brand identity) that expanded and mutated over several decades.
“Tema e Variazioni” is Fornasetti’s most iconic body of work. He appropriated an image of a 19th century courtesan/opera singer (left) and drew her face so that it appeared to be a mechanically reproduced print composed of tiny black dots (when in fact it was initially a genuine drawing!). Fornasetti used the image as a departure point for this series, situating the woman’s face in an array of poses, distortions, costumes and surrealist landscapes. There are over 300 images in the series that have appeared on an array of consumer goods including plates, wallpaper and fabric amongst others.
Here in Toronto, Fornasetti’s “Tema e Variazioni” pieces can be found at AT Design including a lovely selection of pillows, above ($198 each). AT has been selling Fornasetti umbrellas, throws and framed wallpaper for about four years, however, with one of the main distributors recently went bankrupt leaving the shop uncertain as to whether they’ll continue carrying the pieces. So if you like these pillows, get them pronto!
The illustrious English company, Cole & Son, produces Fornasetti wallpaper, which can be ordered through the Lee Jofa showroom in Toronto if you have designer (to the trade only). An 11-yard roll with images from “Tema e Variazioni” retails at $278. There are over a dozen different patterns available (see Chris’s post featuring Riflesso).
While Fornasetti was very successful internationally during the ’50s and ’60s — he is said to have designed more than 11,000 objects in his lifetime — his work fell out of fashion during successive decades. There was a major retrospective of his work at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 1991, however, it has only been in the last decade or so that there’s been significant commercial interest in his work. Today, on 1stdibs.com there are nearly 150 examples of his work available for sale including a three-paneled screen at $35,000.
I’ve been lucky enough to source some smaller Fornasetti pieces for my online boutique, Caviar20.com, such as decorative plates from the 1950’s priced under $500 (below).
While “Tema e Variazioni” products are the easiest pieces to identify as Fornasetti, there are many other motifs from his oeuvre including mythological figures, musical instruments, butterflies, aspects of Italian leisure (smoking, opera, traditional vessels) sunbursts and stylized malachite.
Fornasetti often tested the definition of trompe l’oeil, an idea from fine art where the eye is deceived. He did a series of bowls that depict domed ceilings of Italian churches; the clever result is that the curved structure of the vessel is the perfect application for the image. While Fornasetti had a tremendous output, his unique style, which defied Modernism’s rejection or ornamentation and figuration, is cherished and collected internationally.
Photos by Troy Seidman, except the Moro Chair by Nick Pope from Chairs (Conran Octopus, ©2009)