Gio Ponti - Design London Wednesday, November 2, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Gio Ponti & Giordano Chiesa: Constructive Affinities


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

    Associate member of the Gio Ponti Archives since 2006

    "Many people love wood. Among those I know or remember are Chiesa, Molinari, the old Magnoni, the Cassinas, and Proserpio. When it comes to wood we understand each other. 'I have put aside a specimen for you, sir."
    —Gio Ponti
    Gio Ponti wrote these words in his 1957 book, Amate l’architettura, when describing materials and wood. It is no surprise that he lists Giordano Chiesa first in a line-up of his five preferred ebanisti since Ponti trusted him to interpret the lion’s share of his endless furniture orders from 1948 to the early sixties. These were the most prolific years for Ponti's interior design activities, when Chiesa faithfully rose to the challenge of the architect’s insatiable appetite for new combinations of woods together with metals and stone. The list of their completed projects, in just ten years running, includes some of Ponti's most famous pieces. Chiesa was involved in executing the furniture for every commission, starting with three sumptuous Milan apartments in 1948-50: Cremaschi, Ceccato, and Lucano (also known as Casa di Fantasia).


    Among their most prominent collaborations, we should mention the offices of R.A.I., Vembi-
    Burroughs, the executive desk for the publisher of Domus, Giovanni Mazzocchi, six of ocean liners, and all three great villas outside Italy: Planchart and Arreaza both in Caracas, and Namazee in Tehran.


    The fourteen lots in this group are most likely commissions or prototypes except for a pair of armchairs (Lot 18). These are identical to the model no. 1609 by Cassina, although this example has the rare addition of brass sabots, which may indicate a custom order. Two other works, a low table with blue enamelled copper work by Paolo De Poli (Lot 22), and a taller three-legged occasional table with a glass top (Lot 24) were possibly conceived for the Altamira showroom in New York but never put into production.


    Two metal objects presented here were made at different times: a brass vase from the early 1930s, which is a hybrid of Novecento typologies and Rationalist geometries (Lot 23) and a bronze ashtray from circa 1960 with a biomorphic form (Lot 17).
    The other twelve lots from this selection demonstrate a growing interest in some of Ponti's ‘meta-furniture’ designs, which can be described as oggetti d'arte. All these items are connected to Ponti’s private interiors or commercial commissions that he and Chiesa collaborated on. It is possible that some of these items were bestowed upon Chiesa by Ponti and others remained in Chiesa’s workshop. Their specific contexts reveal a timeline of Ponti's endeavours in the realm of fine art.


    The earliest are two wax-covered and painted papier-mâché sculptures circa 1945 (Lots 15 & 16) made by Enrico Dal Monte from whom Ponti commissioned displays for advertisements in Stile, as well as shop windows for La Rinascente and Elizabeth Arden in Milan in 1947. These two female and angel figures of ethereal dancing deities were likely designed to be private interior decorations. The same goes for the three‘Donna Uccello’ figures (Lots 20, 21 & 26) that evolved from Ponti's interest in ancient Greek Tanagra figurines, and admiration for Alberto Savinio’s delirious painted Metaphysical inventions. They were possibly orphaned from the Casa di Fantasia of the Lucano apartment where much of this surreal family was hosted.


    Interior of Vembi-Burroughs office, Turino, showing a glowing wall light containing a ‘hand’ sculpture with company logo. Credit: Gio Ponti Archives
    Interior of the Vembi-Burroughs office, Turin, showing a glowing wall light containing a ceramic sculpture of a hand with the company’s logo.
    Photo: © Gio Ponti Archives


    The four prototype sculptures in this group (Lot 25) were carved by Chiesa and metaphysical in inspiration as well. Three painted wood embellished obelisks and one solitary hand were eventually executed in ceramic and meant to be placed inside wall lights. The hand displays the Vembi-Burroughs company logo in its palm revealing a commission for their offices in either Genoa or Turin. Their appearance may have been disquieting at the time with their glowing illusion of suspension.


    The fine art works in this group are three oil paintings (Lots 14, 19, 27) that Ponti included in his 1955 ‘Accanto all’ architettura’ exhibition at the Galleria del Sole, Milan. Their subjects were recurring themes specific to Ponti: angels, portraits in his positivo/negativo method, and fragmented bodies. The architect’s exhibition concept, rendered in an English translation as ‘Alongside Architecture’, was a juxtaposition of his latest furniture, a selection decorative objects, a cowhide rug, together with nearly fifty framed paintings. In this project he spells out his polemical vision to break down high and low categories among the arts. Ponti was at his most generous, and it is understandable that his most trusted ebanista, Giordano Chiesa, was a close part of his circle. This exceptional, diverse and yet coherent array of exquisite objects reveals the intense constructive affinities between these two creative masters.


    Gio Ponti’s exhibition ‘Accanto all’architettura’ at the Galleria del Sole, Milan, 1955. 'Gambe' (Lot 14) is hung top right. Image: Archivio Domus - © Editoriale Domus S.p.A.
    Gio Ponti’s exhibition ‘Accanto all’architettura’ at the Galleria del Sole, Milan, 1955. 'Gambe' (Lot 14) is hung top right.
    Image: Archivio Domus - © Editoriale Domus S.p.A.
    • Provenance

      Giordano Chiesa, Milan
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Literature

      'Accanto alla architettura', Domus, no. 312, November 1955, illustrated p. 21

    • 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 Milanese Estate



circa 1955
Oil on panel.
39.2 x 16.1 x 0.9 cm (15 3/8 x 6 3/8 x 0 3/8 in.)
Signed PONTI lower right. Together with a certificate of expertise from the Gio Ponti Archives.

Full Cataloguing

£6,000 - 8,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £8,190

Contact Specialist

Antonia King
Head of Sale, Design
+44 20 7901 7944
[email protected]


London Auction 2 November 2022