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FORTUNY, Mariano FORTUNY Y MADRAZO biography by www.Senses-ArtNouveau.com: his life and work



Spanish dress and fabric designer-artist

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo was one of the most creative minds of his time. He mainly worked in Italy and he was renowned for his Art Nouveau textiles that included fine-pleated silk gowns, lustrous silk and velvet scarves.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo was born in 1871 in Granada, Spain and his father, Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, was also a painter and an eclectic collector of Ancient oriental tissues and carpets, rare potteries and metal armories.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo's selfportrait

His father died when he was only three and his mother, also much involved with art, moved the family to Paris where Mariano started painting.

In 1889, the family moved to Venice, Italy, and Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo established his atelier-laboratory in a magnificent palace (Palazzo Pesaro Orfei), which eventually became the Palazzo Fortuny, now the Fortuny Museum.

His life was dedicated to Art as he was not only an accomplished dress and fabric designer, but he also excelled

in various disciplines such as interior and stage design, painting, photography, architecture, lighting.

Fortuny also invented new methods of textile dyeing and of printing processes onto fabrics, reproducing the depth, color and beauty of ancient brocades, velvets and tapestries.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo died in his Venetian Palace 1949 and was burried in the Verano Cimetery in Rome.

At the turn of the century, he experimented applying the newly invented electric light to stage design and worked also with the famous Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio.
For internal decoration he created the elegant Fortuny's lamps, which diffused subtle light through opalescent silk shades, stretched over delicate wire form. The silk was hand-painted with gold motifs inspired by Oriental art and as a finishing touch, the lamps were decorated with glass beads and silk cording.

In the early 1900s, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo was attracted by new styles and designs in textiles and fashion, by the new aesthetic and functional concepts promoted by reformers of the new applied arts, such as English designer William Morris or painter E. Burne-Jones, and by their theories on a modern style freed from the restraints of convention.

In those years, Fortuny created the "Knossos scarf", his first purely fashion garment, made of silk, rectangular in shape, and printed with geometric, asymmetrical patterns.

In 1907, Fortuny created his most spectacular Art Nouveau dress: the"Delphos robe" in pleated silk, was made famous by theatrical legends Isadora Duncan and Sarah Bernhardt. Designed in a revolutionary shape, inspired by ancient Grecian gown, the long dresses were simple and loose, artistic and functional; their borders were usually finished with Venetian colored glass beads, which were both ornamental and functional.

All the pleated and printed silk, the dresses and the scarves were hand-made in his studio, as were the multi-colored velvets, the satin linings, the silk cording and belts.

The Fortuny pleated silk gown

Before being made up, the silks were dyed in every color imaginable, with different designs or color combinations, changing according to light and movement.
His works were inspired by the floral designs of Ottoman textiles, by luxurious Renaissance embroidery, and by the abstract patterns, the vibrant colors of Persian Art.

The great French writer, Marcel Proust, wrote about Fortuny's dresses :
"Of all the indoor and outdoor gowns that Mme de Guermantes wore, those which seemed most to respond to a definite intention, to be endowed with a special significance, were the garments made by Fortuny y Madrazo from old Venetian models. Is it their historical character, is it rather the fact that each one of them is unique that gives them so special a significance that the pose of the woman who is wearing one while she waits for you to appear or while she talks to you assumes an exceptional importance...?"

Fortuny y Madrazo created some of the most remarkable and timeless pleated silk gowns and velvet scarves, fabrics and dresses. Very fashionable today, it is still a mystery how the fine pleats in the silk were achieved. The scarves allowed great freedom of movement to the female body and they were designed in an attempt to fuse form and fabric.

Their beauty lies in the elegant simplicity, the perfect cut, the superior quality of the material and the richness and sensuality of the colors. All these elements, perfectly integrated, make a Fortuny garment a "work of art."

Pleated silk scarves by Senses Art Nouveau

see our pleated Silk and Velvet scarves

"Knossos" scarf, printed silk velvet scarves(c.1900);
"Delphos" dresses and scarves, finely pleated silk (c.1907);
Fortuny silk lamp collection (c.1900).

LINKS to Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo's Life and Work:

-Mariano FORTUNY a superb site on the designer of pleated silk dresses and velvet fabrics.
-Mariano Fortuny y Mandrazo at the Phoenix Art Museum a 2003 exhibition.
-a famous Evening gown by Mariano Fortuny in pleated silk from the Metropolitan Museum collections in New York.
-an other nice Evening gown by Mariano Fortuny in pleated silk from the Metropolitan Museum collections.
-The Mariano Fortuny's page by the National Museum of American History.
-an other very elegant Delphos Evening gown by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo in pleated silk from the The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (MKG) in Hamburg (Germany).


    -The Costumer's Manifesto : the "reference" in the Costume world, complete and exhaustive.

  • BOOKS on Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo

    Most of the books on Mariano Fortuny are out of print but here are the best we had the chance to acquire:

    - FORTUNY: THE LIFE AND WORK OF MARIANO FORTUNY by Guillermo DE OMSA (Aurum Pr Ltd; May 1999)
    - FORTUNY by Delphine DESVEAUX (in French) (Ed. Assouline; 1998)

    - FORTUNY by Anne Marie DESCHODT & Doretta DAVANZO POLIHardcover, Pages: 188, Plates: 146 b/w, 163 c., Published 2001 by Abrams and other international editions.

    Here is the text From the Dust Jacket:

    The legendary textile and clothing designer Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was a leading artist of the Gilded Age. Living and working in Venice and Paris, he specialized in spectacular luxury fabrics based on Renaissance, Byzantine, and Art Nouveau patterns-double-cut velvets, hand-pleated silks, chiffons, and velvets printed with gold and ornamented with hand-beading. His most famous creations-still being handmade by the Fortuny design house-were the unique pleated-silk Delphos dress, designed to cling sensuously to the body, and flowing scarves of the same material.

    Fortuny belongs in the pantheon of Art Nouveau artists, together with Tiffany, Lalique, the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and William Morris. He moved in the rarefied circles of prewar European aristocracy and his couture designs were celebrated by such writers as Marcel Proust and Gabriele D'Annunzio. Isadora Duncan and Eleanora Duse wore his dresses; Orson Welles made costumes from his textiles for the film Othello. Today, his work has influenced the fashion designers Mary McFadden, Issey Miyake, and others, and his originals are treasured by collectors.

    But Fortuny was far more than a textile artist. He was also a celebrated designer of furnishings, theater sets, and costumes. His signature Oriental lamps of tasseled, printed silk are especially prized by interior decorators. He was also an accomplished painter in the style of Gustave Moreau and the Impressionists. This lavishly illustrated book offers a complete survey of Fortuny's life and work.

    Anne-Marie Deschodt is a free-lance author living in Paris.

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