Penelope Hunter in “Twentieth Century Art.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965-1975. New York, 1975, p. 226, ill. Philippe Garner in The Amazing Bugattis. Exh. cat., Royal College of Art, London. New York, 1979, p. 20, ill. (not this version).
Carlo Bugatti was a leading figure in Italy’s design and decorative arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bugatti is perhaps best known for his exotic, handmade furniture designs. Many of the 19th century’s progressive developments, notably the British Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau, influenced his work. In the early years of the 20th century, his work was characterised by an original and distinctive manipulation of materials and flat decorative forms, reminiscent of exotic, oriental and Middle Eastern forms.
He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan.
He is also remembered as Ettore Bugatti father (1881–1947) and Jean Bugatti’s grandfather (1909–39), the famous Bugatti automobile company’s key members. His other son, Rembrandt Bugatti (1885–1916), was a well-known animal sculptor.
After studying art at the Brera Academy in Milan, he set up a furniture workshop in 1888. A wooden bedroom suite typified his early designs to celebrate his sister’s marriage in 1880. Blending pseudo-Moorish details with naturalistic painted decorative features reminiscent of Japanese design, his aesthetic typifies his earlier work. Such features were noted in favourable reviews of his furniture at the 1888 Italian Exhibition at the Earl’s Court in London.
The chairs and interior designs by Bugatti were eccentric and hard to categorise. They use applied and worked metals, such as copper and detailed inlays; pewter, ivory and other woods, from the Near East for inspiration typical of Syria and Egypt. He was not afraid of combining various materials; vellum (fine skin usually used for writing) was used on the seats on those chairs and hung with tassels.
Vellum became one of his trademarks, as did the circle or half-finished circle and the chunky geometrical look. For example, at the 1902 Turin Exhibition in Italy, some of his furniture was entirely covered in vellum and sporadically decorated with abstract and naturalistic designs, such as insects and birds.
By the middle of the next decade, he began to make greater use of geometrically derived patterns and strong shapes, together with frequent use of vellum, a phase of activity culminating in the Paris Exposition award Universelle Silver Medal in 1900. However, at the 1902 Turin International Exhibition of Decorative Arts, it attracted widespread attention, showing four rooms and a collection of furniture. Dramatic shapes, flowing, sculptural Art Nouveau-redolent forms, and striking interior surface patterns—especially in his ‘Snail Room’—brought the Jury’s unanimous Bugatti Diploma of Honour award.Embed from Getty Images
In 1904, he moved to Paris for family reasons, where he resumed his practise of fine arts while continuing to produce work for leading stores such as Bon Marché in Paris and De Vecchi in Milan. In December 1907, he exhibited silverware at the Galerie Hébrard in Paris, attracting favourable attention at the Studio. Organic, naturalistic details, often based on insects and animal themes, continued at the Salon des Artistes-Décorateurs in 1910 and 1911. It was praised in periodic art and decoration every time. He also designed jewellery, using similar decorative motifs. His style ranged from art deco to classicism in the 1920s.
A THRONE CHAIR, CIRCA 1900 ebonised wood, brass, pewter, painted vellum, tassels 61 in. (155 cm.) high; 30 ¼ in. (77 cm.) wide; 23 in. (59 cm.) deep
Italy c. 1900, four-legged structure made of turned and ebonised nut, ornamental repoussé copper bands, pewter intarsia, bone inlays, cords and parchment, height c. 93 cm, width c. 35 cm, depth c. 45 cm, height of seat c. 43 cm. (MHA)
Carlo Bugatti is, without a doubt, one of the leading pioneers of the Italian decorative arts. It has often been said that it was his designs that succeeded in transforming historicist eclecticism into Art Nouveau. Originally from a family of Milanese artists, he attended the Brera Academy where he showed a particular interest in architecture.
Table designed by Carlo Bugatti; with pewter inlay; Italy; 1890-1900.. Museum Number W.10-1970.
This corner chair of mahogany, vellum (treated calf skin) and rope is decorated with inlaid ebony, pewter and brass. It was designed in Milan, Italy, by Carlo Bugatti and made by an unknown maker between 1895 and 1900. The chair shows exotic Middle Eastern influences and an inventive use of material…
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Woodham, J. Bugatti, Carlo. In A Dictionary of Modern Design. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 26 Jan. 2021, from https://www-oxfordreference-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780191762963.001.0001/acref-9780191762963-e-133.
Yates, S., King, C. E., & Bridge, M. (1999). An encyclopedia of furniture. Grange Books.
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