Carlo Mollino - The Collector: Icons of Design New York Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Private collection, Via Talucchi, Turin
    Galleria Colombari, Turin, 1984
    Galerie Denys Bosselet, Paris, 1984
    Marc-André Hubin, Avenue Foch, Paris, 1986
    Barry Friedman Ltd, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1997

  • Exhibited

    "1400-1984: Esempi di Design dall'Antico al Neomoderno," Galleria Colombari, Turin, 1984
    "Carlo Mollino, Prémier Designer, Dernière Artisan des Années '50," Galerie Denys Bosselet, Paris, 1984
    "Design Italian Style: Furniture by Carlo Mollino and Carlo Graffi," Barry Friedman Ltd., New York, May 1 - July 11, 1997
    "George Nakashima and the Modernist Moment," James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, June 9-September 16, 2001
    "Carlo Mollino: Arabesques," Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, September 20, 2006-January 7, 2007

  • Literature

    “Forme di mobile,” Domus, no. 238, September 1949, p. 10
    Galerie Denys Bosselet, Carlo Mollino, Prémier Designer, Dernière Artisan des Années '50, Paris, 1984, n.p.
    Giovanni Brino, Carlo Mollino: Architettura come Autobiografia, Turin, 1985, p. 131
    Germano Celant, “Gaetano Pesce: Un appartamento a Parigi,” Domus, no. 681, March 1987, pp. 54, 57-59
    France Vanlaethem, Gaetano Pesce, Architecture Design Art, Milan, 1989, p. 95
    Irene de Guttry and Maria Paola Maino, Il Mobile Italiano Degli Anni '40 e '50, Bari, 1992, p. 213, fig. 16
    George Nakashima and the Modernist Moment, exh. cat., James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, 2001, p. 61
    Giovanni Brino, Carlo Mollino: Architecture as Autobiography, Milan, 2005, p. 35, fig. 51
    Rossella Colombari, Carlo Mollino Catalogo Del Mobili – Furniture Catalogue, Milan, 2005, p. 47, fig. 70
    Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, The Furniture of Carlo Mollino, New York, 2006, pp. 105, 224
    Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, eds., Carlo Mollino: Arabesques, exh. cat., Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Milan, 2007, illustrated p. 103, fig. 161, p. 224

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot is registered in the library of the Museo Casa Mollino, Turin, as number CM120-1.

    Phillips would like to thank Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, Museo Casa Mollino, Turin, Rossella Colombari, Galleria Colombari, Milan, and Barry Friedman, New York, for their assistance cataloguing the present lot.

    The present unique desk, distinguished by its retractable tambour and folding side panels, was designed by Carlo Mollino and produced by Apelli & Varesio in 1949, a few years after production of a larger precursor for Mollino House (M3), the studio, or “composite room”, as Fulvio Ferrari has stated, where Mollino installed individual pieces of furniture from 1946. The present lot, an improvement on that earlier desk, was likely produced for a now-unknown private commission in Via Talucchi, Turin.


    Carlo Mollino (1905-73) is very much a product of the city from which he came, that other North-Italian urban power house, Turin. With its wide colonnaded streets, its grand piazzas, its marbled late 19th-century gallerias and its once revolutionary Art Nouveau buildings, Turin would have made a unique and compelling blueprint for any young man coming of age there in the 1930s. The son of an engineer, Carlo Mollino was schooled in the fundamentals of architecture and, having been formally trained, joined his father’s thriving practice. What is exceptional about Mollino and why, over forty years after his death, he continues to be of such singular interest to us, is that he took the essence of Art Nouveau, Modernism, and Surrealism and created for himself an entirely new language which he applied with virtuosity to the fields of architecture, photography, and design. He is secure in his place as one of Italy’s greatest 20th-century artists.

    I became interested in his work about eight years ago having first encountered it in Fulvio Ferrari’s sumptuous Carlo Mollino: Polaroids. Those pictures taken in the sixties and seventies showed women nude, partially nude, or overdressed, theatrically posed against a surrealist backdrop of rattan, zebra skins, red velvet and lace. In some of the photos his models sit on Mollino’s anthropomorphic chairs, their backs arched to follow his sinuous and sensuous lines or naked from the waist down, contrapposto and eyes to camera. These postcard sized images have a painterly quality and a dramatic eye for composition that elevates them far beyond their obvious eroticism. As I write, these Polaroids can be seen both in Gagosian Gallery's New York exhibition of them and in the Musse D’Orsay’s staggering Marquis de Sade show, where Mollino's photographs hang next to works by Bellmer and Man Ray. His inclusion as a photographer in such venues makes Mollino unique amongst Italy’s furniture designers. Here is a man that applies his dark and compelling aesthetic to different artistic practices. His chairs, Polaroid’s, and buildings are very different and yet all undeniably Mollino.
    In Turin one gains a unique insight into Mollino’s architectural practice and his disparate influences. Alas, several of his buildings are no longer standing; in Italy, as elsewhere, developers and planning authorities are negligent of their recent cultural inheritance. Mollino’s fabulous and decadent Teatro Regio (1965-73) is a masterpiece of a concert hall, a cathedral of sumptuous red velvet with a vast crystalline chandelier spanning nearly the entire surface of the concave ceiling. It is one of my favorite buildings and brings together the traditions of Italianate opera-house design of the kind seen in Milan’s La Scala but is also completely new and has about it something of a David Lynch film. Elsewhere in Turin you can see Mollino’s cantilevered chamber of commerce (1972). Here we have Mollino completing a cutting-edge structure, an ambitious engineering feat completed in the year before he died. When looking at this icon of late modernism, it is remarkable to think its creator was a major force in nearly every Italian and indeed international style of the preceding years and that whilst his work of the 1930s and this late work are separated stylistically and by nearly a half century, they are in terms of sensibility clearly by the same master’s hand.
    The jewel of Mollino's Turin is the apartment overlooking the river Po that he created entirely for himself and where he photographed many of those previously-mentioned women against a backdrop entirely of his making. Now a museum, the Casa Mollino is part bachelor pad, part stage set, part artist's studio, but more than any of those it is fantasy made real. He was able through his substantial commercial success as an architect, to indulge and make real what would, for many of us, remain a day or nocturne dream. We, as art lovers, are much the richer for its existence. This apartment carefully preserved by Mollino’s greatest champion and scholar, Fulvio Ferrari, is the artist’s masterpiece, because it brings together his furniture, his photography and his design. Here the baroque, modernism, and Mollinoism exist in quiet yet disturbing harmony. Anyone who visits Turin (preferably in truffle season) should make an appointment to see Casa Mollino.

    Mollino is most famous and most revered not for his buildings but for his furniture. Unlike other giants of 20th-century design, Jean Prouvé and Gio Ponti, for example, nearly all of Mollino’s furniture was produced for private commissions and was not put into production (the notable exception being the coffee table in sculptured wood and glass, which he made in 1950 for the American company J Singer.) The scarcity of Mollino’s design has made it all the more desirable; we want what we cannot have, as Mollino no doubt was keenly aware. Of the several hundred works Mollino made, not one is a dud. Even those produced in larger volume—for nightclubs, restaurants and auditoriums—are virtuoso expressions. I’m thinking particularly of the polychrome chairs that he made for the Lutrario ballroom in the late 50’s. This must have been one of the coolest nightclubs in the world—alas it no longer stands. His masterpieces (some of which can be seen in this catalogue) have a human quality which makes them entirely unique in the panoply of 20th-century design. Here we might have tables that bring to mind the curve of a woman’s back, a spine of wood supporting a cut glass top, chairs that use all the materials in a mid-century modernist palate but that have the organic curves that we normally associate with Art Nouveau. Others are arachnine table tops or seats supported by spindly or elongated legs. Material however, was equally important to Mollino and the luxuriousness of these works may account for Mollino's reluctance to mass produce them. Polished bronze, bent plywood, sculpted wood and lacquered surfaces are very much truer to Italian furniture making of this period than they are to their French equivalents, for example. Mollino’s furniture is utilitarian (indeed the patina of them has been improved by use over the years). If any furniture deserves the title of 'design art', it is his, for it goes far beyond its utility and engages at once the body, the heart, and the head. In my book, this is what defines a masterpiece.

    Here was a man born at the dawn of the 20th century, yet he still titillates, moves, and challenges all who see his work. He is very much alive, perhaps because his furniture so closely relates to the human body; we see something of ourselves in it. So much design can be cold and unforgiving. Here is the opposite; all of Mollino’s work is infused with the heat of eroticism and with his own superhuman gifts.

    Editor-in-chief and Publisher of The Art Book

  • Artist Biography

    Carlo Mollino

    Italian • 1905 - 1973

    Carlo Mollino made sexy furniture. His style may have grown out of the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau, but the sinuous lines of his furniture were more humanoid than vegetal, evoking arched backs and other body parts. Mollino was also an avid aviator, skier and racecar driver — he designed his own car for Le Mans. His love of speed and danger comes across in his designs, which MoMA curator Paola Antonelli has described as having "frisson."

    Mollino had no interest in industrial design and the attendant constraints of material costs and packaging. His independent wealth allowed him to pick and choose projects, resulting in an oeuvre of unique, often site-specific works that were mostly executed by the Turin joinery firm Apelli & Varesio. Apart from a coffee table that he designed in 1950 for the American company Singer & Sons, his furniture never went into production. Notwithstanding the support of Gio Ponti, Mollino's design contemporaries largely dismissed him as an eccentric outsider. However, the combination of scarcity (Mollino only made several hundred works in his lifetime), exquisite craftsmanship and idiosyncratic "frisson" has rightly placed Carlo Mollino in the highest tier of twentieth-century design collecting.

    View More Works


Unique rolltop desk, for a private commission, Turin

Maple, maple-veneered wood, painted oak, brass.
40 7/8 x 41 1/8 x 33 1/2 in. (103.8 x 104.5 x 85.1 cm)
Produced by Apelli & Varesio, Italy. Interior of side panel with metal label APELLI & VARESIO/MOBILI-ARREDAMENTI/AMBIENTAZIONI/Medaglia Argento T8/Via C. Lombroso 19 BIS/TORINO tel. 62958.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $986,500

Contact Specialist
Alexander Payne
Worldwide Head of Design
+44 20 7318 4052

Alex Heminway
Director of Design
New York
+1 212 940 1268

The Collector: Icons of Design

New York Auction 16 December 2014 5pm