Known under a host of labels including painter, draftsman, printer, and decorative artist, Piero Fornasetti enjoyed an extensive and fruitful career. Although he is said to have had studied briefly at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera e Liceo Artistico in his native Milan and later at the Scuola Superiore d’Arte Applicato, Castello Sforzesco, he was largely self taught. Fornasetti’s vast repertoire is made more compelling in view of the many influences evident in his work. Like other artists of the 1930s, Fornasetti looked to the modern neoclassicism of Novecento architects and painters and the classical surrealism of artists such as Giorgio De Chirico. In addition, one finds constant references to treasures of the Italian art landscape in his work, including Roman and Pompeian ruins, Palladian villas of the Veneto, the painting of 15th century artists such as Giotto, and the 18th century architectural prints of Piranesi. These references are especially manifest in his distinct highly detailed graphics. Through rigorous personal study and experimentation, Fornasetti developed new methods of printing on three-dimensional objects through photographic means, which he carefully guarded. Certainly, Fornasetti’s drafting and drawing occupy a fundamental place in his vast creative repertoire. Early in his career, he won renown for his engraving, lithographs, and books after artists such as De Chirico and Marino Marini. Beginning in 1940, for these and other contributions, designer Gio Ponti, with whom Fornasetti would closely collaborate, published his work in Domus. In the 1940s and 1950s, Fornasetti spent much of his creative energy designing objects for the interior, some of which were exhibited at the Milan Triennales. He embellished many of these creations with his iconic graphics. “His form not only did not follow function, the form was often designed by another artist. It was his provocative decoration of the surface that made him unique” (Moro, 66). Although he produced mainly ceramics and furniture, he completed entire interiors, including that of the ill-fated SS Andrea Doria. Into the 1960s, Fornasetti led a thriving factory, showroom, and retail space in Milan. In his usual tireless fashion, he undertook all aspects of his designs, including manufacturing and marketing. All of these works, whether a lithograph or a chair, share Fornasetti’s quirky sense of the absurd.
Ginger Moro, “Piero Fornasetti: Master of Illusion and Allusion,” Echoes 7:3 (Winter 1998), 64-68, 97.
Christopher Wilk, “Piero Fornasetti,” in Martin Eidelberg, ed., Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991), 372.