Bridges between Milan and Paris

By Sophie Bouilhet-Dumas

Excerpts from the catalogue.

The bonds connecting Gio Ponti to France arose at the beginning of his career, while the young Milanese architect was artistic director for the porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori. For two years he had been at work on the profound renewal of the manufacturer’s style while at the same time trying to optimize its mode of production, when the Parisian elite began busying itself with the highly anticipated preparation of the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in 1925.

Serving Spoon and fork “Pastille”, for Christofle, 1953-1957
Silver metal. Christofle Heritage
© Vincent Thibert

He convinced the Richard family to take part in it and to open itself up to new markets(…). This Parisian triumph was doubly rewarded: not only did he win away first prize in the ceramics category, with the porcelain vase La conversazione classica, but he made the acquaintance of Tony Bouilhet, young heir and director of the firm Christofle who was also the head of Arts of the Tableware for the French section. (…) Ponti’s effervescent personality immediately fascinated the Parisian jeweller. (…)The following year, he commissioned Ponti to design their country home, located in the Parisian Region, on the heights of the Saint-Cloud golf club, just a few cable’s lengths from Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein-de-Monzie. This project realised the architect’s desire to design a modern, “Italian” style house conceived as a single unit, from the roof to the garden without forgetting about the doorknobs. The ornamental character imagined by Christofle in polished steel and nicknamed Pony (Ponti-Tony), applicable on a large number of objects, from radiator knobs to cutlery and cigarette holders, forever sealed their creative partnership. This reciprocal emulation was further reinforced even by the fact that, beginning in 1928, they became relatives thanks to the marriage between Tony Bouilhet and Ponti’s niece, Carla Borletti.

After the war, Ponti’s sole focus was on participating in the economic, cultural and political reconstruction of his country thanks to the promotion of the arts. In retaking the helm of the magazine Domus, he positioned himself in a strategic post for the observation and promotion of Italian and international creations in the fields of architecture, design and art. All throughout his life, and particularly in the 1950s, Ponti was a fervent defender of the “Made in Italy” abroad. With contagious enthusiasm he encouraged initiatives promoting Italian design in Paris, New York and London. (…) In 1967, with the exhibition “Domus formes italiennes” Ponti achieved his most triumphant success in Paris. (…)

Ponti’s unconditional love for French culture certainly contributed to the manner in which Domus supported design in this country, whether in the simple articles of the 1920s or the expanded special issues of the 1960s. The biggest names of the architectural and artistic scene were regularly championed in its pages: the home by Le Corbusier and Jeanneret in Boulogne-sur-Mer published in 1928, the interior design and furnishings of Jean Royère in 1939, the prefabricated home of Henri Prouvé in 1950, the experimental house of Claude Parent in 1957, and sculpted dwellings of André Bloc in 1965, to name just a few.

To evoke the importance of Ponti’s contribution in the history of 20th-century architecture, the French press went as far as to describe him as the “Italian Le Corbusier.” (…) At the end of his life, Ponti’s French friends desired to pay tribute to him: in 1968 he was inducted into the Académie d’architecture, while in 1973 the Union centrale des arts décoratifs, at the behest of Pierre Restany and François Mathey, the museum’s head curator, organised an exhibition on his editorial work, entitled ‘1928-1973 Domus: quarante-cinq ans d’architecture, design, art. Expressing the joy the city inspired in him and his inclination towards it, Ponti desired, he said, “to die in Paris at the home of his friend Tony.”20 In Pierre Restany’s views, L’Ange volant, his only building in France so effectively embodied his vision of an Italianstyle humanism.