Gio Ponti - Design London Tuesday, November 9, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Ponti Chairs On The High Seas

    By Brian Kish, Curator and Specialist in 20th Century Italian architecture and design

    Associate member of the Gio Ponti Archives since 2006

    Gio Ponti designed this stylish and comfortable desk chair for Oceania, one of an impressive number of high-quality cruise liners built for the then recently revived Italian shipping industry from 1948 to 1953. This chair was specifically conceived for the vessel’s first class reading and writing room. It was never produced for any of the other ships that Ponti worked on, which makes it extremely rare. All the other chairs onboard these ships were manufactured in large commercial batches by Cassina, except for this armchair as Cassina did not put it into large production.


    In fact, chair design turned out to be Ponti's most prolific endeavour of any furniture type. This striking example exists at an unusual threshold in the continuum of his work. On one hand it straddles his earlier reiterations of Lombardian bergère types whereby wings expand into arms to generate something like a streamlined version of the leggera chair. With sharply tapering legs ending in brass sabots, most of its form is delineated by a very graphic wood outline. This structure in chestnut wood vividly engages with the upholstered forms in keeping with Ponti's design concept of ‘positivo e negativo’. Ponti adds an indisputable elegant touch to this armchair typology.


    The armchair placement in the ship’s reading room was at a solitary cantilevered desk, with a
    single support in gold anodized aluminium. Its hairpin shape triggered a jaunty play of
    interlocking geometries between both chair and desk. The Fornasetti jungle themed wall
    laminates imparted more unexpected visual excitement above Ponti’s newly produced Pirelli
    rubber floor, for which he chose the blue ‘Fantastico’.


    IMAGE 1: Detail of the first class reading and writing room of the Oceania ocean liner showing the armchair designed by Gio Ponti CREDIT: Foto Pozzar - Trieste / Gio Ponti Archives
    Detail of the first class reading and writing room of the Oceania ocean liner showing the armchair designed by Gio Ponti.
    Foto Pozzar - Trieste / Gio Ponti Archives

    The Oceania was made for the long-haul voyage to Australia, and Ponti took these ocean liner commissions seriously to be virtual floating embassies of the new post war Italy. These “Italian calling cards” were engineered to showcase of the latest in design and art, a task he expanded by devoting an entire chapter ‘Ideario’ of his own large autobiographical publication Aria d’Italia: Espressione di Gio Ponti published in 1954, the year of his last ship design projects. Regardless of programs or scales, each interior represents Ponti’s concerns within the visual field, from the complex sequence of his crystalline angles harmonised with colour, textures, to the overall sense that these rooms are meant to function as divertimenti for an exacting clientele, whose long journeys had to be relaxing and entertaining.

    • Provenance

      Private collection, Savona

    • Literature

      Paolo Piccione, Gio Ponti: le navi: il progetto degli interni navali, 1948-1953, Viareggio, 2007, pp. 130-31

    • 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


Armchair, designed for the first class reading and writing room of the 'Oceania' ocean liner

circa 1951
Chestnut, brass, fabric.
72.4 x 56 x 60.6 cm (28 1/2 x 22 x 23 7/8 in.)
Executed by Figli di Amedeo Cassina, Meda, Italy. Together with a certificate of expertise from the Gio Ponti Archives.

Full Cataloguing

£7,000 - 9,000 Ω

Sold for £31,500

Contact Specialist

Antonia King
Head of Sale, Design


London Auction 9 November 2021