The workshop in Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei 

Palazzo Fortuny

A life's dedication to art

Mariano and Henriette Fortuny

Mariano Fortuny, polyhedric artist of Spanish origins, met Henriette Nigrin (his future wife and muse) in Paris in 1902. At that time Marino was a known artist in the fields of painting and theatre lighting. Henriette was a beautiful young woman with a lively intelligence.

The love at first sight was inevitable and Mariano brought Henriette in Venice with him, giving the start not only to their lives together (which was till 1949 with Mariano’s death) but also to a rousing artistic collaboration.

The home-cum-workshop
In 1907 Mariano's and Henriette's adventure in the textile sector begun. Mariano and Henriette founded their first textile printing workshop, starting a rich production of dresses and interior fabrics that was successful on a world scale within a few years.
First Steps
Their textile production started with the silk scarf Knossos and proceeded  tunics and dresses in printed silk, the iconic Delphos gown, precious silk velvets for interiors and elegant silk gauze lamps, which made the "brand" Fortuny famous all over the world.

The Knossos

The first creation in the clothing sector, and one that made
famous the name of Fortuny, was a printed silk taffeta scarf: the Knossos.

This shawl – reminiscent in form of the Greek himation or Indian sari – was rectangular and of considerable size: 450 cm long by 110 cm wide. It boasted early-Corinthian, Cretan, Minoan and Greek decorative motifs, derived from vase painting.

Printing on fabric

In 1910 Fortuny patented an innovative system for the multi-colour printing on fabric. The process provided for the use of matrices made of a thin silk fabric coated with a colloidal substance (gelatine) on which the pattern would be applied by means of an alkaline solution. The pattern could be done by hand, as for a painting, or via a photographic-type printing system.

The Delphos

Without any doubt the greatest success of the workshop was the creation of the Delphos, a monochrome gown of a simple, essential form, a sort of cylinder initially consisting of four pieces of fabric (which by 1919–20 had become five) made in satin or silk taffeta sewn along the long sides in a vertical sequence and continuing to form short sleeves.

The dense vertical waves of each piece of fabric forming the gown could total up to about 450 folds. It took about two hours to do the pleating, many more to eliminate the residues of the bonding agents and about eight hours to put the pieces together and actually make the dress.

A Hectic Production
After the scarves and tunics, the experiments focused on sumptuous silk velvets used in various types of garment: capes, burnous, cloaks, kaftans, jackets, dresses, theatre costumes and fabrics for furniture.

The atelier's creations gave shape to the peculiar and modern figurative language of Fortuny, the result of a cultivated and refined re-elaboration of suggestions drawn from different eras and cultures: from the Greek-Minoic world to Coptic motifs and to the Middle East, from Hispano-Moorish art to the Italian Renaissance and the Far East

"They are veils that seem embroidered and painted by the sun, touched by the moon, sprinkled with stardust … And what to say about the gold imprinted on those stuffs? Venetian gold, red gold, pink gold, white gold, bleu, flowery gold” (Henri Lavedan, 22 April 1911, L’Illustration)

Lamps

Another important aspect of the workshop activity was the interior design production. The Fortuny’s atelier created elegant hanging lamps in printed silk gauze and in various shapes, like Cesendello, Sherazade o Saturno

The Workshop

The printing technique was called “direct” and done manually, by means of specially carved boxwood blocks; the pigment would be applied by means of a brush to the areas to be impressed on the fabric.

With this method derived from the Japanese katagami, developed in the thirteenth century during the Kamakura era, it was not technically possible to produce large surfaces; so the workshop, after various experiments, arrived at the use of screen printing, first on paper and then on emulsified cotton canvas.

Applied for the first time around 1915 in a printing machine
designed and built specifically for the purpose – a semi-mechanical rotary printer – the continuous band matrices made it possible to overcome considerable difficulties (such as the high cost of manual printing) while, conversely, increasing production quantities without changing the artistic effects.

While producing refined ornamental quotations from the past, for the design of new decorative forms the Fortuny workshop also drew on contemporary tastes. Clear proof of this comes from some drawings of stylised floral motifs clearly derived from the Jugendstil.

The process

In the workshop in Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, every process was carried out in line with a “craft” concept, understood as the constant control of every stage of production: from the mixing of colours to the preparation of glues, from the design of the decorative motif to the pattern on the printing block.

The workshop soon became a veritable factory, arriving at a workforce of over 100 workers in 1910.

The patterns of the abayas and djellabbaa, of the bournous, tunics, cassocks, capes, cloths and silk, velvet or cotton furnishing fabrics were designed in very close relationship with the shapes and colours of the garments and fabrics for which they were destined.

After Mariano's death in 1949, Henriette closed the workshop in Palazzo degli Orfei, leaving the management of the textile factory on the Giudecca island - that the husband created before World War II - to the american friend Elsie McNeill.

Palazzo Fortuny is now devoted to preserving the heritage and legacy of Mariano Fortuny. The building retains the rooms and structures created by the couple, together with tapestries and collections. Four floors can be visited, and the museum hosts exhibitions closely connected to the spirit of Fortuny and his eclectic research and experimental interests.

Credits: Story

Museo Fortuny Venezia Palazzo Orfei

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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