Gio Ponti - Design London Wednesday, April 26, 2023 | Phillips
  • Ponti's Images of Women


    By Brian Kish, Curator and Specialist in 20th Century Italian Architecture and Design

    Consultant to the Gio Ponti Archives

    "The dream of painting has accompanied me all my life"
    —Gio Ponti, Aria d'ltalia: Espressione di Gio Ponti, 1954

    With this statement, Gio Ponti makes it clear early on that he intends to include the fine arts into his industrial arts practice. There is no parallel in twentieth-century architecture to the way Ponti integrates an image of women within constructs of all kinds.


    Throughout the 1920s, much of his energy is devoted to designing ceramics for Ginori at Doccia in Florence and San Cristoforo in Milan. This is how he began exploring an endless galaxy of womanhood along a sinuous line of inquiry: "My paintings are motivated by human testimony or by allegory", he clamours in Aria d’ltalia, in concert with the themes and titles underpinning a deluge of exquisite imagery on fine porcelains, as seen in the series called Le mie donne, where a family of nine women were created, each carrying uncommon names: Donatella, Agata, Fabrizia, Isabella, Domitilla, Balbina, Emerenziana, Leonia, and Apollonia. They are depicted floating on clouds over ancient Roman cities. Among the Ginori pieces, we encounter every female archetype; from angels, imagined as unambiguously female in Ponti's world, to witches, to Venus, the Madonna, Amazons and Sirens. He also never shied away from subjects that could then be seen as controversial such as La Perfida Camilla or Mea Leshia from a semi-clandestine love series.


    Vaso delle donne e delle architetture by Gio Ponti for Ginori, circa 1924.
    © Museo delle Porcellane di Doccia, Sesto Fiorentino.


    The four 1950s paintings on offer here are outstanding examples of Ponti's most productive decade and belonged to his preferred ebanista, Giordano Chiesa. In these works, he drifts away from the shadow of Mario Sironi and Massimo Campigli that had influenced his work during the 1930s. Two among this group of four oil paintings were included in his 1955 ‘Accanto alla architettura’ exhibition at the Galleria del Sole, Milan. They were conceived to illuminate this interior space with bright hues punctuating the wall in affinity with Ponti's latest furniture designs.


    The four female subjects consist of two portraits, and two idealised depictions of women. These silhouette portraits have contrasting backgrounds, daylight (Lot 12) and night (Lot 11). The latter is further distinguished by an attribute - Ponti's 1933 Torre Littoria - on the right, which could be a clue to the sitter's identity. The other two paintings feature sensuously idealised women. The present nude reclining on a bed skirted with ruffles reminiscent of glass crinolines adorning decanters and mirrors that Ponti designed for Venini in 1946. The woman at her vanity is more complex with many illusions and conundrums (Lot 9). It is an oil painting in three colours; red, blue, and black on a glass support, again recalling a mirror. In the act of private self-beautification, the subject stares into the mirror but it is the artist's gaze painting her portrait which is reflected, turning him, just as each of us viewers into voyeurs.


    Gio Ponti’s exhibition ‘Accanto alla architettura’ at the Galleria del Sole, Milan, 1955.
    Image: Archivio Domus - © Editoriale Domus S.p.A.

    After he founded Il Labirinto creative group, many projects emerged in its wake, beginning with Domus magazine, the Monza Biennale, and the Milan Triennale, all of which provided new opportunities to demonstrate his way of folding art into design and vice-versa. At Padua University in 1936, Ponti painted frescoes, each stippled with imagery of women, many shrouded calling to mind Piero Della Francesca or even Arnold Bocklin. Around the same time Ponti was also probing the realm of sculpture, best achieved in a monumental 6-metre high plaster statue conceived for the Catholic Press Exhibition at the Vatican and meant to leave a lasting impression with the title ‘L'Italia cattolica’. The figure's archaic bearing, however, seemed Pagan rather than Christian since it was crowned with a star instead of a conventional Christian halo.


    This sculpture led to further surveys of ancient Mediterranean female imagery. The grouping of actual Tanagras that Ponti installed in his display case for the 1950 Casa Ceccatto became the inspiration for both his Dame bianche and Donne uccello white plaster figurine series of 1951 for Gabbianelli. Photographic spreads published in 1930s issues of Domus, show models and friends, all women placed by Ponti in his interior settings for the purpose of animating these spaces with life and movement. Ponti even employed himself as co-editor of a 1940s Italian women's fashion journal Bellezza, for which he created a few covers.


    Towards the end of his life, Ponti returned to painting and began experimenting with the newest materials. Painting on Perspex with fast drying acrylic colours, he reprised earlier depictions of women, this time with a more reductive approach, less identifiable references to archetypes, and a more gestural, at times abstract brushwork. At the end of the 1970s, when he was in his late 80s, he would work alone, painting on Perspex sheets propped against the windows of his top floor flat on Via Dezza. As he repeated it over and over, the female form theme became a sort of mantra for him, an incantatory practice that went on, even after he had already exhausted every possible category of womanhood.

    • Provenance

      Giordano Chiesa, Milan
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Literature

      'Accanto alla architettura', Domus, no. 312, November 1955, illustrated p. 19

    • Catalogue Essay

      The present painting was exhibited in Gio Ponti's exhibition 'Accanto alla architettura' at the Galleria del Sole, Milan, in 1955.

    • 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



'Nudo di donna sul letto'

circa 1955
Oil on panel, in artist's frame.
29.5 x 27.5 cm (11 5/8 x 10 7/8 in.)
Framed: 41.1 x 38.2 x 6 cm (16 1/8 x 15 x 2 3/8 in.)

Together with a certificate of expertise from the Gio Ponti Archives.

Full Cataloguing

£5,000 - 7,000 ‡♠

Sold for £20,320

Contact Specialist

Antonia King
Head of Sale, Design
+44 20 7901 7944


London Auction 26 April 2023