Carlo Scarpa - Design London Thursday, May 12, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Apparent Simplicity


    By Stefano Andrea Poli, Politecnico di Milano and Università di Genova 


    At first glance, this small piece of furniture may appear simple, to some even commonplace, if not plain. The material is certainly humble: simple smooth panels and wooden slats, devoid of any decoration, merely cut and joined. The scrupulous observer, however, cannot miss its perfect joinery, cut at a 45-degree angle between the panels of the upper edge surrounding the marine birch plywood table top. The same material is used for the furnishings and structural parts of boats. Incidentally, the present side table, made by the carpenter Saverio Anfodillo, comes from a house literally built on water in Venice’s Fondamenta Rio Marin. It was part of the master bedroom in Carlo Scarpa's apartment-studio and, as his son Tobia recalls, was perfectly suited to the compact dimensions of that space without betraying the overall logic of the whole house project. Designed by the great artist and architect, the apartment was inhabited from the 1930s to the 1960s and was the scene of private life, meetings and, above all, the projects that Scarpa conceived in the studio on the first floor of the building.


    The building where Carlo Scarpa lived with his wife Onorina Lazzari, Fondamenta Rio Marin, Venice 


    Active in Venice since the mid-twenties when he first began collaborating with M. V. M. Cappellin and later Venini, Carlo Scarpa is not only known among architects, scholars of 20th century Italian culture, or Murano glass collectors and design lovers. His work is also appreciated by the general public, thanks to some of the most successful post World War II Italian museum installations.

    While Scarpa’s activity as a versatile designer has been explored across numerous essays, publications and conferences, we are still without a detailed analysis of his early works beyond the world of glass, which itself has recently been the subject of in-depth studies and exhibitions. Various gaps still remain in the specific area of the young Scarpa’s furniture design, though it appears to be inseparable from his conception of an entire architectural space. This corresponds to the idea of a ‘total work of art’ in the exquisitely modernist tradition. 

    The present side table is particularly significant and representative of Scarpa's modus operandi of this early period. This mainly comes across in his ability to condense functional needs and expressive aspirations in an artefact which, while appearing to be of simple linearity, is instead the result of a complex warp of orthogonal planes, partially projecting and projected into space. It is interesting to consider what the sources of inspiration and precedents could be for such a meticulous orchestration of surfaces, partitions, and geometric shapes condensed into this small piece of furniture. A project that appears to be a forerunner to the compositional characteristics of this side table is the installation of the exhibition of artistic glassware that Scarpa designed for the M. V. M. Cappellin furnace at the 1930 Monza Triennale.

    On that occasion, he organized the narrow and elongated space of the room by defining it with four sculptural wooden pedestals conceived to support the collection's most significant vases. The studied asymmetry, the projection of panes jutting into space (the shelves designed to hold the glass) and the clear division of the vertical upward tapering supports, all evoke the visual language of Northern European artistic avant-gardes. The attempt to apply the structures of furniture, accessories, colours and geometries into three-dimensional space is typical of the De Stijl movement and enriched by the delicate deviation from the orthogonality of the vertical uprights. This process seems to anticipate the clear diagonal setting of this side table and the increasingly defined structural and compositional warping of objects, surfaces, architectures conceived by the Venetian master.

    Drawings of the Rio Marin house project held at the MAXXI in Rome show that, via multiple angles and in various directions, the trapezoidal shape of this side table resonates with other furnishings of the house, including fixed ones, such as the central living room fireplace. The proportions and height of the wooden border around the tabletop is harmoniously calibrated with the size and position of the other surrounding furniture. While not yet displaying the dense surface inlay and refined structural decomposition of Scarpa’s later works, this project does reveal his aptitude for the composition of partitions, inserts, carvings, and joints. This skill is also apparent, albeit with outputs of a very different complexity and richness, in masterpieces such as the Olivetti shop in Piazza San Marco, the Querini Stampalia Foundation also in Venice and the Brion tomb of San Vito d'Altivole, to mention but a few of the best known and most impressive iterations of Scarpa's poetics.

    • Provenance

      Carlo Scarpa and Onorina Lazzari, Rio Marin, Venice
      Thence by descent

    • Artist Biography

      Carlo Scarpa

      Italian • 1906 - 1978

      Phillips Design has a deep-rooted passion for the work of Carlo Scarpa, one of the twentieth century's great poets, whose rhythms, lines and materials — a grammar of space — appeal both as a local response to the architect's birth city, Venice, and a universal language of ordered dynamism.

      Carlo Scarpa graduated with a degree in architectural drawing from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice in 1926. In the years that followed, he worked as a teaching assistant for a former professor, ran his own architectural practice in Venice and worked as a freelance artist for M.V.M. Cappellin glassworks. When M.V.M. Cappellin went bankrupt in 1932, Scarpa joined Venini & C. in Murano, where he served as artistic director until 1947. During his tenure at Venini, Scarpa developed a host of new techniques — in particular, mezza filigrano, a bollicine and corroso — that catapulted the centuries-old tradition of Venetian glassblowing to the forefront of modernist design.

      View More Works


Unique side table

circa 1934
Birch, birch-veneered plywood.
39.8 x 76.9 x 77.2 cm (15 5/8 x 30 1/4 x 30 3/8 in.)
Executed by Saverio Anfodillo, Venice, Italy.

Full Cataloguing

£8,000 - 12,000 Ω

Sold for £73,080

Contact Specialist

Antonia King

Head of Sale, Design
+44 20 7901 7944


London Auction 12 May 2022