Carlo Mollino, a versatile, inspired and highly idiosyncratic individual of innate ability to synthesise diverse influences and passions, is today acknowledged as one of the most strikingly original creators of midcentury Italian architecture and design. Mollino maintained an interest in the Alpine landscape throughout his life. Whilst still a student, he had received an award for his photographic documentation of rural houses in the Val d’Aosta, and in 1953 he founded the Institute of Mountain Architecture. A keen and talented skier, Mollino was chairman of the board of schools and instructors of the FISI, the Italian Winter Sports Federation. In 1951, he published an essay ‘Introduction to Skiing’, which at the time represented a turning point in techniques of downhill skiing, and also produced a screenplay for a companion documentary film. Consequently, Mollino was naturally attracted to the possibilities of designing buildings for use both in this landscape and in the context of winter sports. The Casa del Sole was a ten-story apartment complex for winter sports enthusiasts that was to be sited on difficult, sloping terrain in the Italian Alpine resort of Cervinia. Although the initial concepts can be dated to the late 1940s, work on the building was sufficiently completed by 1954 to allow the delivery of and fitting of the specially-designed furniture. These furnishings were of consciously rugged construction in order to withstand regular use, and stylistically were informed by Mollino’s earlier studies into Alpine, vernacular furniture and architecture. The architectonic, trussed personality of the tables were complemented by chairs that revealed the subtleties of Mollino’s own personalised references, to include the gently hooked, horn-like aspects to the rear of the seats, and a distinctively bi-partite back, the symbolism of which, considering the architect’s interests, may be reasonably associated to reflect corset-like sensuality. In total, around 150 chairs were originally produced, from which some estimates suggest that less than 50 now remain. Approximately 25 rectangular dining tables were commissioned, each inset with green-laminate top, and a further 25 square tables, with oak tops, were produced for the Pavia restaurant, located on the ground floor of the complex. Around thirty years ago, the remaining, surviving furnishings from the Casa del Sole were removed, to be swiftly dispersed amongst collectors. Within the last fifteen years, only two dining suites from the Casa del Sole have been offered at public auction, and in both instances these were square tables supported by four chairs. The present lot, comprising of the larger rectangular table together with six chairs, represents a rare opportunity to engage with this important commission.
The son of Turin’s most prominent architect and engineer, Mollino originally studied art history prior to enrolling at the School of
Architecture, University of Turin, from where he graduated in 1931. From the very beginning, Mollino was established as a forthright and flamboyant architect operating in an idiom entirely of his own creation, his personalised vocabulary having been described in 1948 by the American designer George Nelson as ‘Turinese Baroque’. 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 interests that his projects acquired such personal resonance, and consequently one also encounters designs for automobile racetracks, for filling stations, even aircraft 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 materialised as practical applications, illustrated by his skills as an automobile designer, and by his holding of various technical patents. Furthermore, already an accomplished skier, photographer, automobile racer, and acrobatic pilot, his published
writings contributed to the dialogue on subjects as diverse as the art of Georg Grosz and of Cubism, techniques of skiing, and critiques
of cinema. 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. Both as a designer and as an individual, Mollino articulated an enigmatic and romantic symbolism, as best expressed by the mobile sensuality of many of his furnishings. Here was not a designer who felt compelled to provide a strict rationality for many of his designs, but rather an individual who wished to invest the inanimate with feeling, movement, and a coded mythology.