Born to a wealthy middle-class Milanese family, Piero Fornasetti was groomed to take over the family’s entrepreneurial pursuits as the eldest son. However, by the age of ten Piero was already displaying great promise as an artist, producing complex artistic pieces: landscapes, portraits, architectural elements, and even some hot air balloon design.
Despite having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Fornasetti found it hard to follow the rules and regulations of any school due to his rebellious nature. In 1932, he enrolled at the Accademia di Brera, but was expelled for insubordination two years later. He later enrolled in the Scuola Superiore of Arts Applied to Industry at Castello Sforzesco.
Fornasetti has one of the largest outpours of works of the twentieth century, producing over 13,000 works. His interests were varied, and he produced a plethora of different objects: from tables to paintings, from lamps to waistcoats, from umbrella stands to ceramic plates.
Fornasetti started to study engraving and printing techniques from the early 1930s and established the Fornasetti Art Printshop. Some of the greatest artists of the period took note of his skill and he began printing artist books and lithographs for clients such as Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Bo, Fabrizio Clerici, and Lucio Fontana.
Fornasetti and Ponti met in 1940, when Fornasetti was publishing his work in the magazine Domus, which Ponti edited. This resulted in Ponti commissioning Fornasetti to produce a series of almanacs until 1942, and then following the Second World War the pair would go on to produce important interior design projects for a variety of places such as houses, ship cabins, and cinemas.
Fornasetti found much influence in his country’s culture and visual history. Neoclassical themes are present in much of his works, particularly with architectural features making numerous appearances. Painters Giotto and Piero della Francesca, along with Renaissance frescoes and paintings from Pompeii also influence much of his work.
Fornasetti not only produces a vast array of works for sale, he also created the sets for Albert Camus's play Caligula directed by Giorgio Strehler in 1945. This experience remained visible in much of Fornasetti’s work, with a clear sense of theatricality and whimsy in much of his work.
One of his most iconic series, The Tema e Variazioni series, was based on a magazine illustration of the opera singer Lina Cavalieri. Cavalieri was a renowned classical beauty, and Fornasetti produced hundreds of images of her face throughout his career. There are estimated between 400 and 500 pieces from this series alone.
Throughout the 1970s, Fornasetti ran a gallery in the 1970s where he developed his painting and artistic side to adapt and keep up with the times, exhibiting his own new creations along with that of some of his contemporaries.
Following Piero Fornasetti’s death in 1988, his son Barnaba Fornasetti continues his legacy, who acts as the creative director for the atelier created in the 1950s. Barnaba continues to represent his father’s ideals and style, helping to educate clients about his work.
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