Gio Ponti - Design Evening Sale New York Tuesday, December 13, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from Nordiska Kompanet by a Finnish businessman working in Sweden
    Thence by decent
    Acquired directly from the family, 2002

  • Literature

    "Spedizione per Stoccolma N. 5," Domus, no. 282, May 1953, illustrated p. 38
    Laura Falconi, Gio Ponti: Interiors, Objects, Drawings 1920-1976, Milan, 2004, illustrated p. 166
    Ugo La Pietra, ed., Gio Ponti, New York, 2009, illustrated p. 183

  • Catalogue Essay

    Gio Ponti’s Timeless Furniture
    By Laura Falconi

    For preserving a set of three pieces of furniture from the important series designed by Gio Ponti and executed by master cabinetmaker Giordano Chiesa for Nordiska Kompaniet, the foresight of a Nordic collector should be credited. The set comprises two multi-functional wall units of complementary use to a desk and bed, respectively, and a chest of drawers. Within the most advanced production of the Milanese architect, designer and artist, these works are an exemplary testimony to Italian design production of the time, of its florid expansion and growth to international relevance.

    Thanks to the generous financial aid of the Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program), in the aftermath of World War II the Italian economy quickly rebounded. In the arts, this growth can be attributed to their “formidable quality” of “enormous possibilities,” “anticipating an ambitious future” (Gio Ponti, “Picasso convertirà alla ceramica”, Domus, no. 226, February 1948) which was “stirring emotions” in observant international authority abroad (James Plant, Gio Ponti, “Espressione di Gio Ponti”, Aria d’Italia, no. 8, Milan, 1954). The program granted, amongst other things, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of industrial production and artisanal manufacture, promoting the Italian product through international exhibitions and export.

    Gio Ponti was, and always had been, well informed on foreign production of decorative arts and design; since 1925 he had been a fond supporter of the Swedish manufacture of domestic objects and he believed the American’s mass-produced office and home furniture to be the best in the field. An indefatigable promoter of other artists’ creations, he was renowned for his own achievements in all fields, from architecture to decorative arts, to his impeccable direction of influential periodicals and Triennale exhibitions; Ponti was an ambassador of Italian arts and design in the international scene, able to re-launch national manufactures such as Fontana Arte and Richard Ginori, and one of its biggest contributors.

    In 1947 and 1948 important exhibitions of Italian art and design took place in the United States. On these occasions Ponti's furniture, decorated by Piero Fornasetti and executed by Giordano Chiesa, acquired important popularity and positively influenced the production of his models by local manufacturers such as Singer & Sons, and later Altamira in New York. America was then preparing for what two years later would become the largest ever campaign on Italian Design, with dedicated exhibitions in all major cities.

    In the same vein as the Italian exhibitions in the United States, in 1953 Nordiska Kompaniet promoted a display of furniture by Milanese architects such as Franco Albini, Carlo de Carli, Gio Ponti, and a few others at their department store headquarters in Sweden. On this occasion, together with a round coffee table with glass table top and “hollow shaped” wood frame, a desk, and, amongst the most relevant, two wall units and the chest of drawers were presented. Defined by Ponti as “dashboard panels,” the two wall units were accessorized with overhanging shelves, a drawer, niche for a radio, an ashtray, a magazine rack, and wall lights, book shelves and support for a telephone; these units were also fitted with picture frames for photos or drawings depending on the user’s desire. Aesthetically prevailing is the texture of the walnut burl, its veins and innumerable tones of warm colors confer unity and formality to the series. The “dashboard panels” include a variety of materials with complementary qualities, from Bakelite to glass, paper and brass—in Ponti’s opinion destined to coexist in aesthetic and chromatic harmony. On the prospectus, the marquetry maintains its lines of continuity from the main body to the shelves and drawers, evoking the “storm” effect the architect was so fond of. He had repeatedly applied it to the external walls of buildings covered with marble slabs (such as the Borletti Family Mausoleum and the Palazzo Montecatini); to Pirelli linoleum flooring, for both internal and external use since 1936 and to the walls of certain projects, such as the luxury cabin of a transatlantic ocean liner, exhibited at the V Triennale in 1933. The fantasy element included not only organic but also informal and abstract references, which offset the stern and rational appearance of most buildings. “Folding and bending concrete as a sheet of paper,” (Cesare Casati interviewed by Laura Falconi, Gio Ponti: Interiors, Objects, Drawings, 1920-1976, Milan, 2010) the artist freed himself from rigid expressive canons. “I only mean to make an object which can be seen as a whole, both in form and decoration,” said Picasso about his abstract ceramics (Ibid, Domus, no. 226). Ponti obtained the same unity in most of his applied arts and architectural works.

    The invention of dashboard-walls was not recent. Ponti, bound to Le Corbusier by friendship and respect since the Thirties, had taken up the challenge after some initial hesitation. If a house was to become a machine à abiter, then it needed to be equipped as such. In 1948, with his first dashboard-panel, made-to-measure for the desk of the editor of Domus, the architect had set new criteria for the furnishing of the house, followed the year after when he designed a built-in bookcase “lighting element of the living room” (for Casa C., Gio Ponti, “La parete organizzata”, Domus, no. 266, February 1952), and in 1951 a prototype hotel bedroom including a bedside dashboard on the occasion of the IX Triennale. The following years Ponti explored the concept in depth; using different kinds of wood, namely rosewood, mahogany, ash, and elm, he obtained the newest and most diverse chromatic effects. From the “furnished window” (X Triennale, 1954) with shelves, art objects and memorabilia from his trips, to the wall-mounted desk (Altamira, New York) which Ponti almost completely dematerialized, the succession of his abstract and inventive creations was extensive until 1960, of constant surprise to both the critic and the public.

    Ponti credited the influence of abstract art, particularly Picasso and Lucio Fontana, who, according to Ponti, was able to “fold light” with his neon light installation presented at the IX Triennale. A boost towards abstraction permeated even his most classical works. He defined classical as an essential style, derived from the “richness of the nature” and education (Gio Ponti, “Considerazioni su alcuni mobili di Casa C”, Domus, no. 243, February 1950). As he stated, this aspect “pushes me and other Italians to design tapered, thin and elegant pieces of furniture” (Ibid).

    To stress again the perfect unity of conception between architecture and design, in Domus Ponti underlined that the shadows cast by the protruding elements of the dresser exhibited at Nordiska Kompaniet relate to an architectural frieze. Lacking handles, which would have disrupted the plain surfaces and clean lines, the drawers can be opened by gently pulling these elements. He was so pleased with the design of these units that he decided to include them in his Milanese residence (1957), entirely furnished with his creations, a dresser and wall panels identical in form and design.

    The charm of a unique artwork which radiates from the series shown in Stockholm (a production for only a few connoisseurs) did not prevent Ponti from reaching the masses with his “Superleggera” chair in ash. This chair was conceived shortly after the Stockholm commission and developed for large-scale distribution. It went on to sell more than a million examples worldwide. As Ponti wrote when commissions lacked during the War, “Nothing has ever been done that hasn’t been dreamed about first.” A “Living and tangible” expression of a “dream without time,” caught in its “ephemeral beauty,” (Gio Ponti, “Insegnamento altrui e fantasia degli italiani”, Domus, no. 258, May 1951), and of civilization, Ponti’s furniture will always be contemporary.

  • Artist Biography

    Gio Ponti

    Italian • 1891 - 1979

    Among the most prolific talents to grace twentieth-century design, Gio Ponti defied categorization. Though trained as an architect, he made major contributions to the decorative arts, designing in such disparate materials as ceramics, glass, wood and metal. A gale force of interdisciplinary creativity, Ponti embraced new materials like plastic and aluminum but employed traditional materials such as marble and wood in original, unconventional ways.

    In the industrial realm, he designed buildings, cars, machinery and appliances — notably, the La Cornuta espresso machine for La Pavoni — and founded the ADI (Industrial Designer Association). Among the most special works by Gio Ponti are those that he made in collaboration with master craftsmen such as the cabinetmaker Giordano Chiesa, the illustrator Piero Fornasetti and the enamellist Paolo de Poli.

    View More Works

Property from a Private Nordic Collection


Chest of drawers, designed for Nordiska Kompaniet

Walnut root burl-veneered wood, brass.
37 3/4 x 43 1/4 x 19 3/4 in. (95.9 x 109.9 x 50.2 cm)
Executed by Giordano Chiesa, Milan, Italy. Reverse and proper left side of interior top drawer impressed with manufacturer's label ARREDAMENTI/CHIESA/VIA MORTARA 17/MILANO (ITALIA). Together with a certificate of authenticity from the Gio Ponti Archives.

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $112,500

Contact Specialist
Cordelia Lembo
Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1265

Design Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 December 2016