Italian mid-century design leads Phillip's London auction

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Italian mid-century design leads Phillip's London auction
Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Borsani, Wall-mounted console, designed for the dining room of Casa S., Milan, circa 1950. Estimate: £100,000 – 150,000. Image courtesy of Phillips.

LONDON.- Phillips announced highlights ahead of the London Design sale on 12 November. This sale presents a carefully curated selection of works celebrating design in its many forms and featuring significant pieces from key periods of the 20th and 21st centuries, from Italian Mid-Century Design, French Modernism and Contemporary through to Nordic Design and Modern Ceramics.

Domenico Raimondo, Head of Design, Europe and Senior International Specialist, said: “We are thrilled to present our November auction highlights, led by a series of exceptional examples of mid-century Italian Design. This sale celebrates pivotal moments in the history of 20th and 21st century design, showcasing how certain forms are perfected throughout an architect, designer or artist’s career. The present selection explores those career trajectories, emphasising critical moments through significant and rare examples of the artist’s work. We look forward to opening the exhibition preview on 3 November, online and in-person in our galleries on Berkeley Square.”

Leading the sale is a strong selection of Italian mid-century pieces, at the forefront of which is Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Borsani’s impressive wall-mounted console. Exemplary of Italian modernist design, the console is the result of a compelling collaboration that belongs to a series of furniture designed by the architect Osvaldo Borsani that often incorporate elements painted by his friend and collaborator the artist Lucio Fontana. The 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. 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 further contributes to this freer approach.

Further Italian highlights include a series of works by Gio Ponti, including a prototype ‘Mariposa’ sofa, exhibited at the XI Milan Triennale in 1957. An incredibly rare work, the present sofa is one of only two examples known to exist; the second example remains part of the furnishings for Villa Planchart, Caracas (1955), one of Ponti’s celebrated architectural projects. The ‘Mariposa’ sofa marks a turning point in furniture design as Ponti abandoned wooden legs and traditional materials, instead using thin tubular metal legs that separated the floor from the volume of the seat. Among all of Ponti's designs from the post-war period, the ‘Mariposa’ sofa is the highest expression of his work at the dawn of industrial design, for which he was a pivotal figure. Another exceptional work by Gio Ponti to feature is a dressing table together with a ‘Superleggera’ chair that was also designed for the XI Milan Triennale in 1957. The design is demonstrative of Ponti’s mastery of the concept of finite form that he had strived to attain in his architectural and design works. A nearly identical model of this dressing table with a ‘Superleggera’ chair is also found at the Villa Planchart.

Among the lighting to feature in this sale is a rare ceiling light designed by Studio BBPR circa 1962 for a private commission in Modena, Italy. At almost 3 metres in length, the model no. 2045c is the largest variant from the series of ceiling lights, model no. 2045. A further lighting highlight is a rare table lamp designed by Jacques Adnet circa 1928, shortly after he was appointed artistic director of the Compagnie des Arts Français. Under the young architect’s direction, the company became a 'laboratoire de modernité', embracing geometric simplicity and modern materials. In 1928, at the 18th Salon des Artistes décorateurs, Adnet exhibited furnishings for a bedroom, which made evident this new visual language and featured the present model table lamp.

Of the variety of ceramics on offer is an impressive and unique vase in the 'Budding' style by Axel Johann Salto. Working as a designer for The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory between 1933-1959, Salto incorporated the firm’s classical and newly developed glazes into his work. The present vase features two of Salto’s favourite glazes: Sung, one of Royal Copenhagen’s most celebrated stoneware glazes, which Salto admired for its variation in colour when fired; and Solfatara, created in 1936 by Hans A. Madslund with the artist Nils Thorsson and named after a volcanic crater near Mount Vesuvius.

Further important ceramics include a ‘Cycladic’ pot by Hans Coper. By the end of his life Coper was physically unable to work on pieces at a greater scale and the numbers of these late types are very limited, maybe no more than five or six of each type. Generally, most collectors feel that these tiny late works have all the information and development of the earlier larger works condensed down into a rather haunting final statement. Phillips has achieved high results for Coper’s ‘Cycladic arrow forms’, holding the record for £156,250 from 2018. Coper’s work is held in international museum collections, including the V&A, London and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Additional highlights to feature in this sale include works by well-known designers such as Jean Royère, Beverly Pepper, Yoichi Ohira, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Lucie Rie, George Nakashima, Finn Juhl, Paavo Tynell, Jean-Michel Frank, Ron Arad, and a selection of ceramics from the collection of Jason Jacques.

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