Baldwin Kingrey Con Macchie Vase

Baldwin Kingrey storefront, 1952

This Fulvio Bianconi Con Macchie vase has an interesting and very specific provenance — it belonged to Kitty Baldwin Weese, a founding partner of Baldwin Kingrey, the groundbreaking shop and gallery for modern art and design which opened in Chicago in 1947. The following is reprinted from author John Brunetti’s book, Baldwin Kingrey, Midcentury Modern in Chicago, 1947­ – 1957, and describes the genesis of Baldwin Kingrey, the shop’s relationship to Venini glass, and includes a poignant description of the work of designer Fulvio Bianconi:

Today it is extremely unusual to discover a rare Bianconi Con Macchie vase with such a direct and illustrious provenance. Perhaps the most graphic and abstract of all Bianconi’s Macchie vases, this piece is truly a masterwork of 20th century art and design.

During the summer of 1947 a retail furniture store called Baldwin Kingrey opened in Chicago. Its low-cost, space-saving modern furniture from Scandinavian and American designers was urgently needed by ex-GI’s and their families as they faced housing shortages. The store’s founders — architect Harry Weese, his wife Kitty Baldwin, and their partner Jody Kingrey sold out their first shipment of furniture before Baldwin Kingrey had officially opened, affirming their instincts about the value of good design at affordable prices. However, even they couldn’t foresee the art and design nexus Baldwin Kingrey would become, elevating it beyond a simple commercial enterprise. From 1947 to 1957 it was an informal gathering place and exhibition space for leading architects, designers, and artists of the time, such as Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, György Kepes, James Prestini, and Arthur Siegel. The contributions of these individuals defined good design in the second half of the 20th century.

Fulvio Bianconi

Born in Padua in 1915, Fulvio Bianconi initially rose to prominence as an illustrator, graphic designer and caricaturist working for Italy’s top companies during the 1930s. Designing for big names like Fiat, Pathé and Pirelli, Bianconi employed his passion for drawing as the creative mind behind one of Italy’s most prestigious publishing houses, Garzanti for over 30 years. However, it is perhaps his post-war collaboration with Paolo Venini and experimentation with glass which best defines his legacy as an artist.

On a business trip to Murano in 1947, Bianconi met with Paolo Venini who immediately recognized his talent and offered him a position as artistic director, a post which had recently been vacated by the celebrated architect Carlo Scarpa. Engaged on a free-lance basis, Bianconi’s arrangement with Venini was somewhat unusual but seemed to suit his idiosyncratic personality and artistic inclinations.

From the very beginning, Bianconi’s approach at Venini was entirely that of a fine artist, drawing inspiration from modern art, fashion and graphic design. As a cartoonist and caricaturist he was also able to re-envision cultural themes from Italy’s past and express them in a fresh, contemporary way. All of this was in fact encouraged by Venini, who seemed to have an innate understanding of Bianconi’s frenetic style and unique abilities.

From 1947 to 1950, Bianconi designed numerous series of sculptural objects and vessels including the Commedia dell’Art figures, Fazoletto (handkerchief) vases, Pezzati (patchwork) and con Macchie (stained) vessels, all of which have all now become icons of post-war Italian design. Sometimes surreal, often abstract, these series captured the spirit of the times and expressed the essence of La Dolce Vita and the exuberance of post-war Italy. While Murano had been demonstrating an awareness of modern art since the early part of the century, it is only with Bianconi that it found itself on equal footing.

Bianconi designed unique, modern art objects on a human-scale and for this, Murano glass was the perfect vehicle. From this point of view, one could say that Bianconi was instrumental in the liberation of Murano glass from its own cultural and historical definitions.

Auction Results Fulvio Bianconi