By 1946 Gio Ponti was already an experienced architect and designer, with a long experience of public and private commissions, across multidisciplinary fields. In the context of the immediate aftermath of WWII the Italian economy was in a status of complete disarray with all furniture productions severely disrupted if not altogether discontinued. With the complete lack of a supporting production system and, more importantly, of potential clientele, Ponti’s endeavour turned to reviving the cultural and artistic potential of post-war Italy. Despite sizeable difficulties, a period of unprecedented creative growth and freedom commenced for the architect, and central to this was his great involvement in the Made in Italy promotion through the pages of Stile magazine, of which he was then editor. It is during this time of renewed creativity that Ponti exhibited, with growing critical response and success, at the VII Milan Triennale of 1947 and then of 1950.
The present model appears to have originated from a single curved line of a pen, as if the design commenced from a stylised profile of a seated figure; however, the impression is that Ponti’s hand exaggerated the form, following the movement of the wrist, in a sequence of long and generous curves. Designed at a time when the common imagination was embedded with the vivid memories of the machines of war, the smooth edges and the aerodynamic reduction of volume to certain sections of the frames – such as the wing ‘ears’ and the armrests’ silhouettes – were evocative of an airplane’s wings.
As for many of Gio Ponti’s designs, numerous variants of the model have been recorded, as shown in various period images dating from between 1946 to 1949. Subtle differences in the proportions, design, construction and timber appear between all these examples, suggesting Ponti entrusted different manufacturers with the production of the designs, a common practice elsewhere. Although unquestionably the same concept, each of these armchairs express a delicately refined character. The model executed in 1949 for Villa Vaj, with their curvaceous frames, is removed from the Ariberto Colombo chair of 1946, and even more so from the audacious and dynamic armchair published in Roberto Aloi’s celebrated Arredamento Moderno of the same year.
Perhaps for the first time, the model incorporated lines and details which would become the synonym of Ponti’s style. Geometric lines with softened edges, cut-out details and large flamboyant ‘wings’ were to make further appearances in the Cassina armchairs for the Giulio Cesare Ocean liner of 1950, the 1952 armchairs by Isa, Bergamo, and the wicker Continuum armchair by Bonacina of 1963. Perhaps these armchairs incarnate a yet more universal trait of the architect’s work: that of a masterfully shaped object, with a multitude of profiles which, according to the different angle the form observed from, both highlights and obscure its curves with rigour and planned precision.