Lion et lionne de Nubie

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  • Provenance

    Galerie A.A. Hébrard, Paris (inv. no. 4896bis) (acquired in 1932)
    Michel Kellermann, Paris
    Macklowe Gallery Ltd., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Macklowe Gallery Ltd., Rembrandt Bugatti, 1884-1916, March 1979, pl. 24, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Mary Harvey, The Bronzes of Rembrandt Bugatti, London, 1979, no. 17, p. 31 (another example illustrated)
    Jacques-Chalom Des Cordes and Véronique Fromanger Des Cordes, Rembrandt Bugatti, Paris, 1987, p. 247 (another example illustrated, pp. 246-247)
    Alain Delon and Véronique Fromanger Des Cordes, Les Bugatti d’Alain Delon, Paris, 1988, no. 11, n.p. (another example illustrated)
    Edward Horswell, Rembrandt Bugatti: Life in Sculpture, London, 2004, p. 181 (another example illustrated, pp. 182-183)
    Véronique Fromanger, Rembrandt Bugatti: Répertoire Monographique sculpteur, Paris, 2009, no. 230, p. 309 (another example illustrated, p. 175)
    Véronique Fromanger, Rembrandt Bugatti: Repertoire Monographique sculptor: A Meteoric Rise, Paris, 2016, no. 234, p. 342 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    With quiet grace and power, a lion and lioness pad across the ground together, separated by a whisker. There is a discreet majesty to Rembrandt Bugatti’s Lion et lionne de Nubie, which was originally conceived in 1910, at the highpoint of his career. By this time, still in his mid-twenties, Bugatti had already established an impressive reputation as a sculptor. Of all his subjects, his animals were the most acclaimed—and of these, his depictions of big cats remain a pinnacle. In the case of Lion et lionne de Nubie, these Nubian lions— sometimes classified as Panthera leo nubicus—are shown as a pair, standing together, surveying the world.

    The “lion de Nubie” is renowned for its magnificent mane, captured by Bugatti with special attention, its hairs picked out individually, radiating, recalling the decorations of pharoahs’ tombs as much as the animals themselves. The big cats in Bugatti’s sculpture have sometimes been identified with Barbary lions—one of the many groups that has become extinct in the wild in the last two centuries. However, the “nubicus”, or East African lion, has enjoyed a revival thanks to conservation efforts. Regardless of precise identification, Bugatti’s sculpture, which stretches three and a half feet along, compresses the might of these lions, concentrating it in the glistening details that have been picked out by the artist. They are suffused with a latent energy that leaves the viewer aware of their raw, wild power.

    The sense of physical presence in Lion et lionne de Nubie reflects Bugatti’s own working practice. Since 1906, although partly based in Paris, he had spent long stretches of time sculpting from life at Antwerp Zoo. He was fascinated by fauna, and at the time, zoos were often willing to accommodate artists keen to observe them. In the case of the zoo at Antwerp, one of the oldest in the world, Bugatti provided models for their own museum. He even had a studio there. In the case of Lion et lionne de Nubie, the subject must have seemed particularly apt, as the gates to the Antwerp Zoo are decorated with a celebrated mosaic of a tiger and a lion.

    Bugatti’s incredible empathy for the animals was visible in the sculptures he made, which are filled with personality rather than just presenting generic impressions of their subjects. Stories were told of animals responding to Bugatti’s presence with affection—the wild seeming tame in his presence. Certainly, Lion et lionne de Nubie captures more than the stately and magnificent presence of the creatures: they convey a rich sense of character. This is heightened by the dynamic between the lion and the lioness: they are presented as a unit, prowling together. The lions were modelled as separate works and cast as such in additional editions – an original plaster was bequeathed to the French state by Bugatti’s niece and is now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris – yet the strength of their pairing, expressed through their proximity and intimacy, clearly resonated with Bugatti. It is this crystallization of emotion that has resulted in the enduring popularity of Bugatti’s works.

    In addition to its profound sensibility, Lion et lionne de Nubie reveals the extent to which Bugatti was able to balance timelessness with modernity. Although they are depicted with subjective accuracy, these animals have been presented with a discreet stylization. Some of the forms of their bodies have been reduced to an almost planar level, hinting at an awareness of the Cubism that had cut such a swathe through the avant-garde in Paris at the time that he had been there. In particular, the mane of the lion has been rendered with striating lines depicting the hairs; these have an almost abstract quality in their rigor, prefiguring Art Deco as well as reflecting the continuation of Art Nouveau. It was only natural that Bugatti would be positioned to create works that synthesized both the appearance and presence of his subjects and also the artistic developments of the day, as his father was a highly successful furniture designer, whose works are still sought-after to this day.

    It was in Carlo Bugatti’s own studio that the young Rembrandt had discovered his prodigious talent for sculpture. Ironically, Rembrandt had originally been slated for a career as an engineer, while his older brother Ettore had originally been considered the more artistic sibling, even enrolling at the Accademia di Brera in Milan. However, they would ultimately exchange their positions, with Ettore founding the famous car company that still bears the family’s name today. His company would eventually craft tools for the sculptor in its factory, while Rembrandt Bugatti created the mascot—a rearing elephant—for the Bugatti Royale, a vast and luxurious limousine which was also a loss-making labor of love for Ettore. In a sense, both brothers shared a love of beauty and finesse that informed their work. For Rembrandt Bugatti, this was evident in the technical, as well as artistic, mastery evident in his sculptures, for instance Lion et lionne de Nubie. This was subsequently reinforced by Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard, whose celebrated foundry cast most of Bugatti’s sculptures, including the seven casts of Lion et lionne de Nubie of which this is numbered “6”. Hébrard was innovative when it came to his techniques, hence his being chosen as a founder of choice by artists such as Auguste Rodin. He was also innovative in his marketing, radically limiting the editions of Bugatti’s works, recognizing the value of rarity and excellence.

Ο26

Property of an Important American Collector

Lion et lionne de Nubie

incised with the artist's signature "R. Bugatti" and stamped with the foundry mark and number "CIRE PERDUE A.A. HÉBRARD 6" on the base
bronze with black patina
18 1/4 x 50 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (46.4 x 128.3 x 22.2 cm.)
Conceived circa 1909 and cast before 1934, this work is number 6 from an edition of 7.

Véronique Fromanger has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Estimate
$900,000 - 1,200,000 

sold for $1,095,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018