Artist, poet, designer, craftsman, printer - there is no one word that defines the unique talent of Piero Fornasetti. Born in 1913, he was the visionary whose work transformed the decorative arts scene in the 20th century. Revered for his masterful application of two-dimensional art to three-dimensional form, he adapted drawings to objects, furniture, interiors, theatre sets, fashion, magazine covers, and books, deploying humor and poetry in the way he wrapped the illustrations about the objects and spaces.

He attended the Brera Arts Academy at an early age and expulsion from it in 1930 did little to deviate his trajectory to the heart of the Milanese art world.

From his workshop, he produced lithographs for other artists, alongside his own work which he exhibited at the Milan Triennale from as early as 1933. After the 140 Triennale, his oeuvre took a new turn when he met Gio Ponti, a modernist furniture designer who invited him to decorate his pared-down pieces. Throughout the 40s and 50s, they worked together, Ponti designing cabinets, desks, and chairs which Fornasetti then covered with intricate designs, creating illusions and trompe l'oeils around their forms.

His early artistic forays were undertaken against a backdrop of emerging rationalism in architecture and surrealism in art. Classical architecture, the Renaissance, and contemporary metaphysical painters such as de Chirico were a clear inspiration, but the carefully crafted motifs that these influences spawned, and the applications Fornasetti dreamt up, defied classification. Tema e Variazioni (Themes and Variations), a series of 500 adaptations of a black and white portrait of the opera singer Lina Cavalieri, became one of his best-known works.