Osvaldo Borsani and Lucio Fontana - Design London Thursday, November 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Casa S., Milan
    Private collection, Milan

  • Literature

    Giuliana Gramigna and Fulvio Irace, Osvaldo Borsani, Rome, 1992, pp. 194-95
    Irene de Guttry and Maria Paola Maino, Il Mobile Italiano Degli Anni '40 e '50, Bari, 2010, p. 112
    Giampiero Bosoni, Osvaldo Borsani: architect, designer, entrepreneur, Milan, 2018, illustrated pp. 361, 566
    Tommaso Fantoni, Norman Foster, and Giampiero Bosoni, Osvaldo Borsani, exh. cat., Milan, 2018, pp. 75, 94

  • Catalogue Essay

    Phillips wishes to thank the Osvaldo Borsani Archive for their assistance cataloguing the present lot.

    Sculptural Extension: Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Borsani's Wall-mounted Console

    The present wall-mounted marble console designed by the architect Osvaldo Borsani features a sculptural support conceived and painted by his friend and collaborator the artist Lucio Fontana. The console belongs to a series of furniture and interiors designed by Borsani that incorporate painted or sculptural works by Fontana, providing a visual versatility that could respond to a client’s individual requirements and taste. Having embraced new ideological and technological advances throughout his career, Borsani played an instrumental role in the formation of Italian modernist design, while remaining dedicated to the country’s tradition of craftsmanship and quality of materials. This enduring commitment paired with his pursuit and understanding of design as addressing more than the functional underscored Borsani’s collaborative approach to his work. Fontana’s own spatial research and exploration of dimensionality provided an intersection for artistic exchange between the architect and artist, which expanded the expressive possibilities of both their practices. Synthesising classical and modern vocabularies, the present wall-mounted console dates from the early 1950s during which Borsani’s work was expanding from the highly customised artisan production of Arredamenti Borsani Varedo towards the industrial design of Tecno, while coinciding with the transition in Fontana’s work from his Baroque-inspired forms to Spatialism. While referencing Baroque ceiling frescoes, the console’s sculptural extension from the wall also parallels Fontana’s investigation into dissolving its physical dimension, reflecting his and Borsani’s shared desire to address conventional relationships between the object and its surrounding space.

    Borsani received his early training under his father Gaetano Borsani, whose firm he continued to work for throughout his studies at the Politecnico di Milano, where he graduated with a degree in architecture in 1937. The family workshop in Varedo was highly regarded for its craftsmanship, an influence that would remain central to Borsani’s own design practice, in addition to the impact of his father’s appreciation for art. During the 1930s, Gaetano began collaborating with contemporary artists to produce customised furniture and interior schemes for the firm’s Milanese upper middle class clientele. Before graduating from the Politecnico, Borsani had studied at the Accademia di Brera, where he had first encountered Fontana along with the artists Arnaldo Pomodoro and Fausto Melotti who would become the next generation of Italy’s avant-garde. Sharing his father’s interest in contemporary art and recognising the creative and experimental potential of a collaborative approach to design, Borsani’s œuvre makes evident the many professional relationships and friendships he formed with artists during his career, which in addition to Fontana, Pomodoro and Melotti also notably included Roberto Crippa, Giò Pomodoro, Aligi Sassu, Agenore Fabbri and Andrea Cascella. With a desire to bring art into the everyday environment, Borsani fostered a dialogue within his practice that extended beyond the traditional bounds of architecture and design. This interdisciplinary approach flourished in the context of post-war Milan and the resulting economic upturn, which created a momentum and openness for an exchange of ideas and research across cultural fields.

    A focal point for the intersection of art, architecture and design during this period was the Milan Triennale exhibitions. In 1951 at the IX Triennale, Borsani and Fontana presented a glass side table with marble base. The table featured a carved and painted wood ‘ribbon’ with putti by Fontana around the brass stem. Borsani had also designed a version of the side table that was more simplified in form without the sculpted ‘ribbon’ detail. Borsani applied the same principle to the present wall-mounted console, which features a corresponding ‘ribbon’ form, supported by gilded putti, that extended around the entirety of the tabletop. Designed a few years earlier, Borsani’s wall-mounted console (lot 157) features a simple, refined form with classical symmetry. Comparing the two console designs, along with those of the side table variations, illustrates the expressive possibilities of the artist’s intervention. The accompanying expanded choice and approach to materials, incorporated into the structure designed by the architect, offered even further variation for individual clients and projects.

    On the occasion of the IX Triennale, Fontana had also presented his iconic Spatial Light – Structure in Neon. Through this work, which comprised a rhythmic and intersecting 100-metre-long loop of neon tubing suspended across the ceiling of the grand staircase Palazzo dell’Arte, Fontana sought a convergence of movement and colour with the surrounding architectural space. Fontana’s early investigations into space are evident throughout the many projects in which Borsani entrusted the artist to intervene in ceiling, wall and doors designs, as well as architectural elements such as fireplaces and door handles. Within these interiors, Fontana’s ideas take the form of striking ceramic tile mosaics, enamelled ceramics and sculpted spiral compositions, abstract lighting panels, and cast-bronze or gilded-stucco details, integrating architecture and furnishings. The first known works created by Borsani and Fontana date to the late 1940s, following Fontana’s return from Argentina to Milan after the war, and include the artist’s large ceramic fireplace for Villa Borsani in Varedo. Throughout the 1950s, Borsani and Fontana collaborated on residential and commercial projects, through which they developed ideas that explored extending surfaces and spaces. Fontana had published his first manifesto on Spatialism in 1947 in which he called for a synthesis in art of colour, sound, movement and time, leading to the development of his ‘spatial environments’. In his text, Fontana advocated for a new form of art in which ‘the [a]esthetic of the organic movement replaces the empty [a]esthetic of fixed forms’ and explaining, ‘a form of art is now demanded which is based on the necessity of this new vision. The baroque has guided us in this direction, in all its as yet unsurpassed grandeur, where the plastic form is inseparable from the notion of time, the images appear to abandon the plane and continue into space the movements they suggest’.

    Fontana’s collaborative work with architects such as Borsani, who also offered an additional set of technical skills, provided an important avenue for his exploration of space and the integration of art and the viewer within it. Similarly, each element of Borsani’s interiors were considered within the entire composition, often achieved through a dialogue between tradition and innovation. This unity of visual language, illustrated in the present wall-mounted console through a synthesis of classical and modern elements, was used by Borsani to create a continuity of material and space. The asymmetry and surface effect of the black marble tabletop with highlights of blue and silver creates a dynamic quality that moves beyond the Rationalist design of Borsani’s earlier work, while retaining a purity of form. The sculptural supporting frame executed to Fontana’s design and hand-painted by the artist, further contributes to this freer approach. The iconography of the gilded putti, which give the illusion of supporting the painted veil surrounding the marble slab, and reference Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, suggest movement as they lift the console through space. The work appears expressive and free of constraint, while simultaneously structuring the composition of the original interior, together reflecting the dynamic exchange between architect and artist.


Wall-mounted console, designed for the dining room of Casa S., Milan

circa 1950
Marble, gilded and painted wood.
99.6 x 260.2 x 47.6 cm (39 1/4 x 102 1/2 x 18 3/4 in.)
Produced by Arredamenti Borsani, Varedo, Italy. Together with a certificate of expertise from the Osvaldo Borsani Archive.

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £1,135,700

Contact Specialist

Madalena Horta E Costa
Head of Sale, Associate Specialist
+44 20 7318 4019



London Auction 12 November 2020