Fontana Arte (1931)

Biography Luigi Fontana founded his eponymous plate glass manufacturing company in Milan in 1881. His success in the construction sector attracted new investors, including the multinational Saint-Gobain glass company, soon enabling Luigi Fontana & Partners to open outlets both nationally and abroad, becoming one of the largest glass manufacturers in Italy.

Between 1930 and 1932, hoping to expand into art glass and interior furnishings, Fontana hired the renowned architect-designer Gio Ponti (1891-1979) who was then art director of the ceramics company Richard Ginori. His designs for the domestic market included the now-iconic 0024 Pendant (1931) and Bilia Table Lamp (1931/32). By 1933, the collaboration gave rise to Fontana Arte, an artistic glass work division of Fontana’s company. The same year, Fontana Arte acquired Pietro Chiesa’s (1892-1948) glass workshop. The two designer’s collaboration resulted in a vast number of exceptional pieces including lighting, mirrors, sculptural pieces, and even furniture made of glass, all characterized by a remarkable purity of form. Early successes included Chiesa’s Fontana Coffee Table (1932), Cartoccio Vase (1932), Luminator Floor Lamp (1933), and 006 Series (1933/37).

Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, Fontana Arte developed few new products, relying instead on iterations of Chiesa’s designs from the 1930s. This creative conservatism stemmed from the devastation of the war years and the economic turmoil that immediately followed. A few private commissions from hotels, offices, and museums helped sustain the company until post-War recovery took hold in Italy.

In 1954, the French-born designer Max Ingrand (1908-1969) took the helm as artistic director and ushered in a new era for Fontana Arte. From chandeliers, sconces, and lamps to furniture, mirrors, and decorative objects, the company’s prolific, sometimes bespoke output reinforced its reputation for glamour and style. Ingrand’s Fontana Table (1954) remains a bestseller today.

In 1967, two years before Ingrand’s untimely death, Ponti returned to Fontana Arte as art director. Although short lived, his second tenure produced two iconic collections, the Pirellina and Pirellone (1967).

In 1972, Saint-Gobain took direct ownership, and production and material quality declined. In 1979 however, Fontana Arte changed hands again and was taken over by a group of shareholders represented by the CEO Carlo Guglielmi. A new, successful phase was established when he brought in the Italian architect Gae Aulenti as art director. Standout pieces from this era include Aulenti’s Tavolo con Ruote Table (1980) and Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni’s Parola Table Lamp (1980).

In 1998, Fontana Arte was awarded the ADI Compasso d'Oro in recognition for its significant contribution to Italian design legacy. Cementing its position at the forefront of technical expertise and innovative design, Fontana Art joined forces with the Nice Group in 2012. 21st century collaborations involved Steven Holl, David Chipperfield, Vico Magistretti, GamFratesi, Karim Rashid, Form Us with Love, and Harry & Camilla. Works produced by Fontana Arte can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein), the Triennale di Milano, and more.

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