Once seen, the decorative language of Piero Fornasetti is never forgotten. Whether it’s the face of Lina Cavalieri, the soprano whose image he found in an old magazine and which he used countless times on everything from plates to pieces of furniture, or the Corinthian and Ionic capitals that he appropriated for his own decorative purposes, whatever Fornasetti did, nobody could ever have accused him of being dull. His main work was done in the middle of the last century in Italy. He was a designer, graphic artist, illustrator, painter, engraver and furniture maker. He was enormously prolific, being credited with creating something like 11,000 products.
Today the winking eyes, the hands, the printed words and letters are instantly recognisable. As his son, Barnaba Fornasetti, who is keeping the spirit of his father’s work alive by reproducing iconic pieces as well as by expanding its range, says, “Decoration is a way of communicating the pleasure of life, of making it more enjoyable; it’s part of all our history.”
His father was much influenced by renaissance painting, and it shows. He collaborated a lot with Gio Ponti, the Italian designer of the mid-20th century, who came up with many of the furniture shapes that Fornasetti then decorated. But what perhaps isn’t always immediately evident is quite how painstakingly made the furniture was – and is still being – made. All the etchings are taken from original artwork painted or sketched by Piero Fornasetti. They are screen-printed, hand-applied and then hand-lacquered.
This autumn Fornasetti fans will have a new decorative theme to ponder: a range called Armed With Irony. Inspired by renaissance engravings of armour and antique illustrations of firearms, Barnaba has taken the theme of weaponry, but while the background is black lacquer, he has coloured the pistols, the weaponry and the body armour in bright, almost pop-art colours, giving them a wonderfully playful, witty air.
The range consists mainly of pieces for offices. There’s a desk, a mirror (first picture), a small bureau with drawers, an office chair (first picture), two meeting chairs, cabinets (first picture) and three nesting tables. Prices range from £1,000 for a waste-paper basket to £3,000 for the low table and £8,000 for the desk. They can all be seen and bought at Themes & Variations in London’s Notting Hill, while Milk Concept Boutique always has a selection of Fornasetti wares.
Also new this month are some wonderful containers for the iconic Fornasetti scent, Otto. Barnaba has raided the archives – again – and come up with some beguiling illustrations for the containers. They can be found at The Shop at Bluebird; from £45 for a box of incense sticks to £380 for a large scented candle (second picture).