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 practice 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.
Bugatti works in our partner stores
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.
Yates, S., King, C. E., & Bridge, M. (1999). An encyclopedia of furniture. Grange Books.