The Studio Alchimia in Milan, founded in 1976 by several of Italy’s most prominent radical designers, began producing furniture in that year. By relying on the writings of Alessandro Mendini, editor of the magazine Modo, they rejected the utopian, modernist approach to design and instead opted for symbolism and craftsmanship.
In Alchimia’s first Bau.Haus collection, unveiled in 1979, Mendini’s Proust armchair was perhaps the most unexpected of the works shown. An antique Victorian armchair was re-created by Mendini, who hand-painted the entire piece, including the carved wooden frame and the upholstery, in an impressionistic brushstroke pattern. The other artists used contemporary materials and shapes that appeared to be contemporary but were actually eccentric.
Comfortable enough for Proust
Mendini stated that his goal was to design a chair that would have been comfortable enough for Marcel Proust to sit in. However, he chose to make a vague reference to Proust by using an allover painted pattern on a period-style chair, a reference to the fact that Proust had owned Impressionist paintings. Mendini’s Proust armchairs, like all of Alchimia’s products, were made in small numbers and individually painted to express the collective’s unease with mass production and the commercialisation of contemporary design.
Hiesinger, K., & Marcus, G. (2004). Landmarks of Twentieth Century Design. https://doi.org/10.1604/9780756774615
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