Italian furniture and light maker
Fontana Arte (established in 1933) was founded by Luigi Fontana, Gio Ponti, and Pietro Chiesa as a premier producer and marketer of furniture, lighting, and furnishing accessories, and distignuished itself applying the highest standards of glass craftsmanship and techniques. Throughout Fontana Arte’s history, its lamps and furniture have been highly sought after due to their superior glass craftsmanship and innovative design.
The origins of Fontana Arte go back to 1881, when Luigi Fontana established Luigi Fontana e Compagni to produce and market sheet glass for the construction industry. Luigi’s success as an entrepreneur in the growing construction sector, transformed Luigi Fontana e Compagni into one of the largest glass manufacturers in Italy, and by the mid 1920s, Fontana e Compagni’s capabilities included the creation of artistic stained glass that was mostly used in functional and decorative settings of churches and cathedrals. read more
In just a few years, the production of such artistic stained-glass products had become of such importance that a different division within the Fontana e Compagni was created to further its development. In 1930, Luigi Fontana met the successful young Milanese architect Gio Ponti, who was then the art director of Richard-Ginori pottery company, and they formed a partnership, under the name of Luigi Fontana SA, for the production of light fixtures, furniture, and furnishing objects. During this initial period, Gio Ponti designed fro Fontana Arte the now-iconic 0024 Pendant light (1931) and the Bilia Table Lamp (1931).
In 1932, Gio Ponti approached Pietro Chiesa to join him and Luigi Fontana and to become Luigi Fontana SA’s artistic director. In 1933, Pietro Chiesa merged his studio, the Bottega di Pietro Chiesa, with Fontana SA, and together Luigi Fontana, Gio Ponti, and Chiesa founded Fontana Arte. During Chiesa’s tenure as artistic director, Fontana Arte’s production became rich and varied. It included furniture, tables, mirrors, sculptures, and stained glass, but it was certainly in the lighting sector where Fontana Arte excelled by creating lamps and lights with the highest standards in glass craftsmanship and modern designs. From this period came the Luminator floor lamp, the Cartoccio glass vase, and the Fontana Arte table made out of a single band of bent clear glass, (all designed by Pietro Chiesa, in 1932); and the Naska lamp (designed by Fontana Arte in 1933). It was also during this time that Chiesa created what would become Fontana Arte’s signature colors of the time, deep blue and green, which Chiesa integrated so successfully into many of his creations.
From the very beginning not only did Fontana Arte set up a robust creative program, but it also set up an assertive agenda to increase its visibility. The same year in which it was founded, in 1933, Fontana Arte participated in the Venice Biennale, the V Triennale di Milano (Milan Triennial), and other major international exhibitions; it opened stores on via Montenapoleone in Milan and on via Condotti in Rome; and expanded its international sales through partnerships, becoming a symbol of refined taste and modernity. During World War II, Fontana Arte’s fortunes declined, and Pietro Chiesa served as its artistic director until his unexpected death in Paris in 1948.
In 1954, Max Ingrand, who was artistic director of French glass maker–and Fontana Arte shareholder since 1952–Saint Gobain, became artistic director of Fontana Arte. During Max Ingrand’s early artistic directorship, Fontana Arte focused on innovative combinations of metals and glass. In the early 1950s, he established a design collaboration between artist Lucio Fontana and architect Roberto Menghi, and Fontana Arte created stunning tables with large ceramic bases and glass tops. But these were also times of great opportunities brought about by the change in taste, expanding market for designer furniture and lighting in Italy and abroad, and improvements in manufacturing techniques. Wanting to take full advantage of these opportunities, Max Ingrand rapidly moved Fontana Arte from a limited, exclusive, and very expensive production line into a modernized and highly serialized one, while maintaining its superior quality by implementing simpler designs. Important products realized during these years include the Fontana lamp (Ingrand, 1954), which is still in great demand. The late 1950s and 1960s brought new design partnerships (e.g., Bobo Piccoli, Gianni Reggiori, Alberto Rosselli, Franca Helg, Umberto Riva, Duilio Barnabé, Piero Castellini, Gianni Celada), and Max Ingrand continued as Fontana Arte’s artistic director until 1967. From 1967 until 1969, when Saint-Gobain sold Fontana Arte to a group of Italian investors, Gio Ponti led the artistic direction of the company and designed the Pirellone and Pirellina lamps in 1967.
After a long transition period, during which the iconic Uovo lamp was designed for Fontana Arte by Ben Swildens (1972), Gae Aulenti became Fontana Arte’s artistic director in 1979, and the group began a renewed era of creativity—this time, by centering back on glass making and forging new design partnerships, such as those with Pier Giacomo Castiglioni (with whom Gae Aulenti co-designed the Parola lamps, 1980), Daniela Puppa (Prima Signora lamp, 1992, Franco Raggi (Velo lamp, 1989), Umberto Riva (Metafora lamp, 1980), and Renzo Piano (Teso furnishing systems). In 1998, Fontana Arte obtained the prestigious Compasso d’Oro for its many years of achievement in the lighting sector. In 2012, Gae Aulenti died and Fontana Arte named Giorgio Biscaro as artistic director.
From 2010 until October 2016, Fontana Arte was owned by home automation systems company Nice SPA. On October 2016, Milan-based company ItalianCreationGroup purchased the Fontana Arte brand. The ItalianCreationGroup is also owner of Italian furniture design company Driade.
- Franco Devoni, Fontana Arte – Gio Ponti, Piero Chiesa, Max Ingrand, Umberto Allemandi, Turin, Italy (2012)
- Sergio Montefusco, Fontana Arte Repertorio 1933-1943 dalle immagini dell’epoca. The Arting Company (2012)
- Laura Falconi, Fontana Arte Una Storia Transparente, Skira, Turin, Italy 1998
For more information on Fontana Arte visit the site History of Fontana Arte
Last updated: February 6, 2020
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