Mollino the Rationalist

by Fulvio and Napoleone Ferrari

The present lot in the dining room of Casa Minola, Turin.
Photo by Riccardo Moncalvo, courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

In the early 1940s Carlo Mollino went through a radical change in his interior designs. From the very surreal and nocturnal projects of the late 1930s he shifted to the idea of what he called “the forest of an apartment with a biological camp of furniture”.

Mollino began developing organic furniture forms—extraordinarily animated wooden sculptures to inhabit his interiors. But looking at the spatial constructions of these apartments, their whole organization is strictly geometrical. Entire walls, fixtures, and service elements are all part of a rigorous composition defined by orthogonal straight lines. Only curtains soften these lines and black and white etchings of forests covering some walls break the overall geometrical rhythm, but still they are always framed and domesticated.

Floor plan of Casa Minola illustrating the placement of the present lot.
Photo courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

Mollino’s interiors live off this contrast between the fragmented linear composition of the volume and the nervy presence of the ‘mobiles’ (in Italian the word mobile means both furniture and mobile). It is also a contrast of materials....or perhaps a symphony: pure white marble, ivory painted metal, natural wood, gold and black lacquer, mirrors, creamy colours fabrics, shiny brass.

While the furniture is amazingly lively, it is at the same time extremely important that the fixtures are geometrically perfect; quality always mattered to Mollino, he was constantly choosing the best craftsmen which were not lacking in the ‘working’ town of Turin. Further, the composition had to be ‘exact’, like a law regulating nature, otherwise everything would collapse. Mollino understood that little details were fundamental to enhancing his forms. If the overall effect is far from the feeling of minimalism, the care for precision is the same as is the meaningful abstraction of the single forms of objects, both likely influences of traditional Japanese design.

"...when a piece of furniture becomes unwelcome, it simply disappears into the wall." - Carlo Mollino

In 1949 Mollino published an essay on interior decoration in Domus magazine. In it he refers to the Japanese house in these terms: “a clear rhythm of light partitions heralds the magical possibilities of retreat, designed as perfectly as an egg, in which all material circumstances had disappeared, or rather been transfigured into grace; no slumming doors or unsynchronised routines and no speed save for that of their fabled dragons. These spaces, modulated by the standard mats, seem suspended in space and free from the constraints of gravity...the Japanese, the animal and the spiritual, are reflected in the sacred proportions of a basic geometric harmony, steadfast yet always mobile...when a piece of furniture becomes unwelcome, it simply disappears into the wall”.

With the cabinet from Casa Cattaneo and the console from Casa Minola we also see the influence of traditional Japanese design on Mollino’s works. Take for instance the Cattaneo House cabinet, a well ordered and surprising function hidden in the composition of the complete room uniformly covered with a pinstripe made of Italian red larch and buttoned with the hundreds of polished brass studs. The organization is typical of Mollino, the vertical elements in the space giving a metaphysical pattern to the surface concentrating its vigour as if a mantra. It is evident at the same time that the Minola House shelf belongs to the complex composition of the entire dining room. The polygonal chain that limits the Minola House shelf is a carefully determined line, and a characteristic Mollino form. Unfortunately its original study does not survive but it’s easy to imagine its genesis looking at one of his architectural sketches for a shelf where the shape is configured after a series of trials as the artist slowly focuses his expression.

Carlo Mollino 1905–1973

As a child, Carlo Mollino was smitten by the engineering work of his father and his infatuation led him to the study of constructional engineering and architecture at the University of Turin. After graduating, Mollino worked at his father’s studio before founding his own architectural and interior design practice run out of the same space. He built several famed structures including the Società Ippica Torinese (1937-40, now destroyed), Casa del Sole, Cervinia (1947-54) and the Teatro Regio Torino (1965-73) as well as several private homes and apartments.

Aside from architecture and interior design, Mollino possessed a love of race cars; he created sweptback cars for himself to race and even set a record at Le Mans that remained unbroken for two years. An expert skier obsessed with aerodynamics and clean lines, Mollino wrote a book on the subject. Not only did he love speed and the sleek bodies of automobiles but the voluptuous curves of the female form inspired a series of erotic photographs featuring nude models on and around his own furniture designs. The idealized female form and aerodynamics motivated his design aesthetic, curved backs, slim ankles, and hourglass shapes abound in his furniture designs. Moving away from the austerity of the Modernist movement, Mollino imbued his furniture with a sense of the feminine and the surreal.

Auction Results Carlo Mollino

CARLO MOLLINO, set of six dining chairs from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

set of six dining chairs from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $216,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Important coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Important coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $150,000–200,000
result: $215,000

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $80,000–120,000
result: $206,500

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model #1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model #1114
estimate: $40,000–50,000
result: $180,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Important coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Important coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $161,000

CARLO MOLLINO, desk from Reale Mutua Assicurazioni | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

desk from Reale Mutua Assicurazioni
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $156,000

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model #1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model #1114
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $156,000

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model #1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model #1114
estimate: $40,000–50,000
result: $132,000

CARLO MOLLINO, bed from the Casa Minola | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

bed from the Casa Minola
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $120,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Important coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Important coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $80,500

CARLO MOLLINO, Talucci side chair | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Talucci side chair
estimate: $50,000–70,000
result: $57,600

CARLO MOLLINO, dining table from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

dining table from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $54,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $54,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $40,000–50,000
result: $45,600

CARLO MOLLINO, cabinet from the Ferro residence, Torino | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

cabinet from the Ferro residence, Torino
estimate: $35,000–40,000
result: $42,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $42,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Chair from Casa del Sole | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Chair from Casa del Sole
estimate: $30,000–50,000
result: $38,750

CARLO MOLLINO, Casa del Sole chair | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Casa del Sole chair
estimate: $30,000–50,000
result: $37,500

CARLO MOLLINO, Suora floor lamp | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Suora floor lamp
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $35,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $35,000

CARLO MOLLINO, set of eight chairs from Lutrario Hall, Turin | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

set of eight chairs from Lutrario Hall, Turin
estimate: $30,000–50,000
result: $35,000

CARLO MOLLINO, dining chairs from Lutrario Hall, set of eight | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

dining chairs from Lutrario Hall, set of eight
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $30,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Suora floor lamp | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Suora floor lamp
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $26,250

CARLO MOLLINO, bed from the Casa Minola | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

bed from the Casa Minola
estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $26,000