The Life and Work of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940)

The Life and Work of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940)

Next week's auction of Design offers two archetypal side chairs from a truly unique Italian designer - Carlo Bugatti - whose life was filled with talent and tragedy.

14 October 2021

Inheriting artistic talents from his father, who was an architect and sculptor, Carlo Bugatti was born in Milan on February 16, 1856. He studied at the Brera Academy in Milan and at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris. Towards the end of the 1860s, he began working for a cabinet-maker in Milan.

In 1888, Bugatti displayed his designs at both the Industrial Arts Exhibition in Milan and the Italian Exhibition at Earl's Court in London. Typical of the first phase of his furniture making, he used heavy, ebonised wood inlaid with copper, brass, ivory, mother of pearl or camel and deer hide which he then decorated with fringes or metal discs, exotic geometric marquetry or stencil work of oriental calligraphy or with flower, animal or insect motifs. Influenced by Moorish, Japanese and primitive art, his cabinets, chairs, tables, beds and other pieces were all highly individual, even theatrical.

After opening his own workshop in Milan in 1898, Bugatti exhibited at the Exhibitions in Turin in 1898 and Paris in 1900. At the First International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Arts held in Turin in 1902, he created his famous ‘Snail Room' and won the Diploma of Honour, its most prestigious award. However, the 1902 exhibition marked the last phase in Bugatti's furniture designs mainly because his experimentation with new materials like vellum failed to attract clients. On the brink of bankruptcy, he was forced to close his workshop.

To start afresh, Bugatti with his wife Teresa and three children emigrated to Paris in 1904. There, he opened another workshop, this time producing luxury items for clients such as the Bon Marché department store. On his arrival, he had met art merchant and artistic foundry owner Adrien A. Hèbrard (1865-1937) who convinced him to begin sculpting and who, in 1907, held an exhibition of his silverware designs, largely depicting animals, at the Galerie Hébrard. Bugatti also had regular exhibitions at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs before moving, in 1910, due to his wife's ill health to Pierrefonds, a small village north east of Paris.


Carlo Bugatti side chairs at Sworders


Sadly, the latter years of Bugatti's life were marked by tragedy. He was devastated by the suicide, in 1916, of his younger son, the brilliant but fragile sculptor, Rembrandt. This was followed, in 1932, by the death of his daughter, and soon after that, of his wife. Now alone, he went to live with his son Ettore, near the Bugatti car factory at Molsheim in the Alsace region of France. Carlo Bugatti died in April 1940 and was buried at Dorlisheim with full military honours for the courageous stand he took against the German occupation of Pierrerfonds, where he had been mayor during World War I.

Sworders is proud to be offering two fine examples of Bugatti's work (pictured) - a side chair, c.1910, made from stained wood, copper, bone and inlaid metal, with an asymmetrical raised back, estimated for sale at £2,000 - £3,000, and another even more extravagant design, made from walnut and copper, c.1900, featuring a drum-shaped and vellum-mounted back, carrying an estimate of £7,000 - £9,000.

The full sale is available to view by appointment at the Stansted Mountfitchet Auction Rooms from tomorrow (15 October).



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