As an architect, designer and as an individual, Carlo 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 rationale for his designs, but rather an individual who wished to impregnate the inanimate with feeling, movement, and a coded mythology. Consequently, furnishings acquired the eroticism of the female form, colour palettes struck chords of symphonic sensuality, and environments offered a metaphorical hyper-reality.
Mollino's interior scheme for the Marquis Vladi Orengo's Turin apartment, the Casa Orengo, commenced in late 1949, represented his last major interior for a private client. With views towards the surrounding Italian Alps and the River Po, Mollino's designs for the interior incorporated mirrored walls and draped walls to absolve the distinction between internal and external perspectives. This surrealistic environment of visual and proportional distortion was enhanced by the unique furnishings designed and produced specifically for this interior, of which the most significant was the dramatically anthropomorphic 'Arabesque' occasional table. The gentle urgency of the table's plywood structure offers a tactile riposte to the turbulence of the River Po, an allusion reinforced by the lithographic print of a tumbling stream, enlarged to occupy the full wall of the living room.
Executed by the highly skilled artisans of the Apelli & Varesio workshop, the 'Arabesque' table has long been critically acclaimed as the most emblematic manifestation of Mollino's unique character. Designed to communicate with the specific identity of the Casa Orengo, the table exhibits alternative personalities consistent with Mollino's fascination with eroticism and the human form. The unusual outline of the toughened glass top is a replication of a recumbent female torso drawn by Léonor Fini, and echoes the form of the Venus di Milo mirror Mollino created for the 1938 Casa Miller, whilst the punctuated plywood spine of the table, supported at one end by an attenuated tapering member, the base resting on brass heels, offers a proposal of delicate sensuality.
The present table is a unique example, and has remained in a private collection since being purchased from the elderly Marquis Orengo in 1984. The Orengo 'Arabesque' represents the very first manifestation of a form that continues to enjoy iconographic status as one of the most expressive examples of twentieth-century design. Consistent with his ability to reinterpret successful themes, Mollino produced subsequent versions of his 'Arabesque' table, and in 1950 produced a variation with modified cut-outs to the frame and a biomorphic glass top. This example has resided in a European collection since the mid-1980s. At the same time, Mollino produced his first elongated version of the table, including a version for G. & A. Rosselli Ponti House with three cut-out holes, and a version with five cut-out holes that toured the United States with the 'Italy At Work' exhibition. At least six examples of this latter version are recorded, with examples in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Vitra Design Museum, Weil-am-Rhein, the others remaining in European or American private collections.
During May-October 1997 the Orengo 'Arabesque' table was a key exhibit at London's Design Museum exhibition 'The Power of Erotic Design'. In April 1985 the remaining contents of the Casa Orengo were sold at auction by Franco Semenzato & C., Venice. In June 2005, Mollino's oak and glass dining table from the Casa Orengo, was sold Christie's New York, establishing a world record price for an example of post-1945 design.