No object was too small, nor too banal, to become a canvas for the Italian artist and designer Piero Fornasetti. From china plates to pillows, coasters to candlesticks, Fornasetti left behind a masterly array of objects (nearly 13,000 of them), decorated in his characteristically curious style, when he passed away in 1988.

fornasetti in tub drawing

This month, 100 years after his birth, Milan’s Triennale Design Museum will host an exhibit celebrating his life and work, the most comprehensive to date. The show, titled “100 Years of Practical Madness,” will span from his early days as a painter to his collaborations with the architect Gio Ponti in the 50s and 60s. With nearly 1000 pieces on view, many of which have never been seen by the public, the exhibit will highlight his prolific career and dexterity — one piece as jocose as the other intricate. The curator of the show is Piero’s son, Barnaba, who carries on his father’s work .

“His iconic style was instrumental in carving the artistic direction of mid-century Milan, from the way he sketched to the typeface he chose,” says Barneys’ Tom Kalenderian, general merchandise manager of Chelsea Passage and the menswear division.

Theme and Variations

The most iconic of Fornasetti motifs might be that of the face of the operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri. Fornasetti’s obsession was sparked by a mere sighting of her photograph in a 19th century magazine. Cavalieri was commonly referred to as the most beautiful woman during her time, so it’s no wonder she inspired this artist so.  “What inspired me to create more than 350 variations of the face of a woman?” the designer asked himself in a 1987 interivew. “I don’t know. I began to make them and I never stopped.”

Fornasetti’s various interpretations of Cavalieri’s countenance set a precedent for a droll and detailed approach to life that his son upholds as he leads today’s Fornasetti atelier.


“Barnaba has masterfully respected the originality and history of his father’s legacy while nurturing the art and preparing a path for Fornasetti to be known and enjoyed for posterity,” adds Mr. Kalenderian.

Fornasetti designs have been favorites of Barneys shoppers since their introduction to the store by the Pressmans nearly 40 years ago. And if their current popularity (hello, 2013 gift guide!) is any indication, they’ll be favorites for many years to come.


“100 Years of Practical Madness”
Triennale Design Museum, Milan
November 13th to February 9th


 Images courtesy of Fornasetti.