Italian Design!

Suspension in iron (1902) by Alessandro Mazzucotelli

Suspension in iron (1902) by Alessandro Mazzucotelli.

Liberty style: The forms were inspired by natural forms – the fantastical dragonflies on the top create strong and lyrical shapes.
This week we’re focusing on Italian Design with the opening of the wonderful exhibition ‘Dolce Vita? – Italian Decorative Art, 1900-1940, from Liberty to Industrial Design’ at the Musée d’Orsay (14 April – 13 September). 

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The ‘Dolce Vita’ exhibition traces the developement of the decorative and fine arts in Italy in the early to mid years of the 20th century.  This intense period of creativity occurred during a time of profound change in the country, starting with the optimism of the Giolitti government (1900-1914) and the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Turin in 1902,  followed by the shock of WWI  through to the turmoil of Mussolini’s Fascist regime and WWII.  Artists, master glassmakers and craftsmen, in Italy were expressing the newly unified nations’ desire for progress with the creation of a true ‘Italian Style’ which would influence the birth of modern design. This backdrop of ‘paradoxical optimism’ explains the question mark in the title of the exhibition – ‘Dolce Vita?’.
What we felt comes across strongly is the clear sense of the powerful dialogue between the fine and decorative arts of the period and their connections to, and reflections of the social and political developments of the period. This symbiotic flow of inspiration and sense of connection is intriguing and the historical context deepens our experience of each work. “Eventually everything connects –  people, ideas, objects…” Charles Eames.
Organised in chronological order, the exhibition consists of around 100 works and is divided into Liberty, Futurism, Modern Classicism and Industrial.
Chair and 'Pysche' mirror (c1902) by Carlo Bugatti
Liberty’: Chair and ‘Psyche’ mirror in wood and parchment (1902) by Carlo Bugatti.
The zoomorphic forms and sinuous shapes reflected the interest in nature of the Liberty style in Italy.
Panneau in wood and enamel (1898-1920) by Galileo Chini
Panneau in wood and enamel (1898-1920) by Galileo Chini, a decorator, designer, painter and ceramist.
In this fabulous panel the Liberty motifs are combined with a strong Renaissance influence, in particular from the work of the ceramist and sculptor, Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525).
Buffalo bowl (1910) in patinated bronze by Duilio Cambellotti
Buffalo bowl (1910) in patinated bronze by Duilio Cambellotti.
His influence was political and social as well as aesthetic and artistic as many of the artists and craftsmen in Italy at the time.   Cambellotti was an applied artist, illustrator, painter, sculptor and designer who played a large role in the development of the Liberty style.
Painting ‘Lignes-Force du poing de Boccioni’ (c1915) by Giacomo Balla
‘Lignes-Force du poing de Boccioni’, ink on paper (c1915) by Giacomo Balla.
The highly avant-garde Futurist movement was fervently opposed to the traditionalism of bourgeois academic and museum culture. It expressed a desire for renewal based on a glorification of progress and speed creating a dynamic interpretation of colors and shapes and was manifested in  Their first manifesto (1909) was followed by ‘The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe’ in 1915 which extended the Futurist aesthetic into the decorative arts.
Interestingly, the painter Depero, opened in Rovereto his ‘Casa del Mago’ (‘House of the Magicien’), a workshop filled with tapestries, furniture, posters and ceramics all for sale, and in Rome Bollo, the painter opened his house to the public following the same principle in a movement away from what they saw as the stultifying atmosphere of the traditional museums. In the 1920s many Futurists opened ‘art houses’.
Futurist lamp-table ‘ready-made’ (1930) by Thayaht
Futurist lamp-table ‘ready-made’ (1930) by Thayaht
Painting ‘Sapho’ (1921) by Achille Funi; chairs and guéridon (1930) by Franco Albini.
Painting ‘Sapho’ (1921) by Achille Funi; chairs and guéridon (1930) by Franco Albini.

The ‘Metafisica’ movement in Italian painting rediscovered a dialogue with classical art through images of classical busts and motifs. Though it was a purely pictorial movement, a similar classical sensibility developed in parallel in the decorative arts in Italy in the early 1920s.  A sense of simultaneously reaching back and moving forward.


Glass ‘Veronese’ vase (1921) by Vittorio Zecchin
Murano glass ‘Veronese’ vase (1921) by Vittorio Zecchin.
This vase is modeled on the vase on the balustrade to the left of the Virgin Mary in Veronese ‘L’Annociation’ (1578) (image below).  Artists and craftsmen were drawing inspiration from, and had a deep respect for, the rich heritage of Italian art while still looking to the future.
Mannerist painter Paolo Veronese’s ‘Annociation’ (1578) in the Galleria dell’Accademia de Venise.
‘Porte-Objects’ high table (1930) in chrome iron and wood by Giuseppe Pagano; ‘Saint-Elia’ chair (1936) by Giuseppe Terragini; ‘Luminator’ lamp (1929) by Luciano Baldessari
‘Porte-Objects’ high table (1930) in chrome iron and wood by Giuseppe Pagano; ‘Saint-Elia’ chair (1936) by Giuseppe Terragini; ‘Luminator’ lamp (1929) by Luciano Baldessari.
In 1926 a group of young architects in Lombardy influenced by the theories of Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, founded ‘Gruppo 7’. They created furniture with pure lines using innovative materials like metal tubing thus laying the foundations of industrial design in Italy.

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 Art and Design Auction in Brussels
26th April 2015

The spectacular chair by Ron Arad on the catalogue cover (lot 224) is made of sheets of steel riveted together. 1968, Vitra edition. Estimate €6,000-8,000.
See online catalogue.

Matrizia sofa by Ron Arad for Moroso.

Matrizia sofa (2015) by Ron Arad for Moroso.
Interesting to see Arad’s ‘Matrizia’ sofa  showing in Milan this week. With a spring-based structure, the mattress is folded over into the shape of a sofa and held together by a concealed metal frame.

“The idea came about by accident, after seeing mattresses dumped in the street when walking in town, a sight which captured the boundless imagination of Ron Arad and triggered an imaginary operation of salvage and decontextualization. Matrizia is a sofa-sculpture, an upholstered furniture item which acts as the ideal midway point between design skill and craft talent,” said Moroso.



We couldn’t resist including the Sonia Rykiel flagship store on the Blvd Saint Germain in Paris which has been transformed by Swedish-Portugese artist André Saralva and art director Thomas Lenthal into a café/library as part of a brilliant pop-up concept. The long vintage sofa is seriously covetable! Items for sale from Rykiel’s current collection are nestled in to rectangular voids in the book-lined walls creating a cosy and intimate atmosphere despite the large size of the rooms. See Wallpaper’s article on this new concept store.
Image courtesy of Sonia Rykiel.
Finally, to wrap up Italian design this week, we’ll leave you  with a reminder to join us on Twitter to read about the Fauve Italian sale in Paris yesterday. Interestingly, lot 6 was a Suspension in iron (1902) by Alessandro Mazzucotelli, one of which we saw in the Musée d’Orsay exhibition on Italian decorative art this week (our first image in this week’s post!)
Wishing you a great weekend!
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