Christies to auction Unique Works by Carlo Mollino

Christies is to auction a collection of furnishings from the Casa Cattaneo designed by Carlo Mollino, the most sought-after Italian designer of the twentieth century, in the sale of 20th Century Decorative Art & Design on 23 October 2012. Constructed on the foothills of the Alps, and benefitting from majestic views over Lake Maggiore, the Casa Cattaneo endures as a unique and complete surviving expression of Carlo Mollino’s distinctive architecture and interior design. Casa Cattaneo is the only private villa ever designed by Mollino and is one of very few of his structures to remain intact. Comprising 10 lots the collection is expected to realise in excess of £700,000.

Dining suite Oak, chestnut and linoleum, 1953, comprising of: Large dining table: 79 x 160 x 64 cm. Small dining table: 79 x 99.5 x 89.5 cm. Ten dining chairs, each: 94 x 38 x 45 cm. Estimate: £500,000 – 700,000

Completed in 1953, the Casa Cattaneo is the only private villa ever designed by Mollino. Commissioned by Italian industrialist Luigi Cattaneo, who had been introduced to Mollino by his cousin, the engineer Aldo Celli, the villa was the consequence of two distinct yet complimentary personalities who were able to share in the conception of a unique family retreat. The secluded site, benefitting from magnificent views over Lake Maggiore, had been selected by Cattaneo to provide a peaceful respite from his business in Milan. Mollino, in 1951, was then at the height of his talents, having recently completed the Lattes publishing house and the RAI auditorium in Turin, exhibited his furniture designs at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, and had embarked on the first of a series of buildings in the Alpine resort of Cervinia.

During the 1930s, Mollino had conducted a detailed photographic survey into the traditional regional architecture of the Val d’Aosta. These timber buildings, with raised superstructures, open galleries, and pitched roofs, were to provide the architectural inspiration for the Casa Cattaneo, allowing Mollino to design a building that embraced modernity, whilst retaining a local, nationalistic identity that was appropriate for the setting. The architectural innovations, as well as many of the furniture models created for the house, were to provide the prototypes for Mollino’s further development of the Alpine ski resort at Cervinia, the following year, 1954. Shortly after completion the home acquired the title Villa K2 – in homage to the mountain peak scaled by an Italian expedition in 1954. In the decades since completion, the intimacy of the perfectly-designed interior has continued to provide inspirational refuge to successive generations of the Cattaneo family.

The furnishings that Carlo Mollino designed for the Casa Cattaneo represent a unique aesthetic that perfectly complemented the modernistic yet traditional styling of the villa’s architecture. For this interior Mollino elected to use a variety of natural materials that echoed the villa’s construction. To panel the interior of the villa, imported Oregon pine was fastened to the wall by a rhythm of brass bolts. Other walls were rendered with a textured, granulated surface containing shimmering crystal fragments, and the floor of the entrance hall was laid with a mosaic of locally-sourced cut and polished river pebbles. The natural materials of the interior were selected to enhance the building’s honesty of construction, and to offer balance to the natural panorama towards Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains.

As a private home, the Casa Cattaneo occupies an unparalleled position within Mollino’s activity, having survived intact since 1953. Mollino enjoyed a rare gift as an architect – the complete faith of clients such as Luigi Cattaneo, who entrusted Mollino to deliver in his unique architectural vocabulary. With the exception of Turin’s Teatro Regio and the Lutrario Ballroom, and the recently preserved Lago Nero Alpine lodge, all of Mollino’s other structures have either been destroyed, or modified beyond recognition. What little furniture remains is now preserved in international museums and collections. The furnishings of this interior endure as fluent, articulate talismans borne from passion and of innovation, and perfectly encapsulate the unique and singular spirit of the Casa Cattaneo.

Born in Turin, Carlo Mollino was the son of the region’s most prominent engineer and architect. Carlo Mollino initially studied art history prior to enrolling at the School of Architecture, University of Turin, from where he graduated in 1931. He subsequently worked in his father’s practice, and in 1933 won first prize in the competition for the Federazione Agricoltori headquarters in Cuneo. From the late 1940s until the mid-1950s, Mollino produced a spectacular portfolio of works and projects, including domestic commissions, Alpine resorts, hotel interiors and commercial developments. It was, however, through the diversity of his own interest that his projects acquired such a personal resonance, and consequently one also encounters designs for automobile racetracks, for filling stations, and for airport hangars. Mollino’s background in technical engineering supplied the inspiration not only for the types of architectural projects that many architects would deem too trivial, but also materialized as practical applications, illustrated by his skills as an automobile designer, his holding of various technical patents, and by his early designs for radio gramaphones. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s Mollino continued to work on numerous projects and exercises, however turned increasingly to concentrate on technical projects, such as aircraft design, and to pursue his dominant passion for photography. Mollino died in 1973, and for such a versatile creator there now remains remarkably little physical evidence by which to define him. Only a dozen of Mollino’s buildings now remain, most having been destroyed, abandoned, or altered beyond recognition, and his furnishings were generally produced in limited quantities specific only to a particular commission. Christie’s holds the current record for a work by Mollino sold at auction with a unique oak and glass table for the Casa Orengo, 1949, which sold at Christie’s New York for $3,824,000 in 2005. This is also a world record price for Italian Post-War design at auction.

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