Carlo Bugatti - Important Design London Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Munich

  • Literature

    Rachele Ferrario, Luigi Settembrini, et al., Camera con vista: arte interni in Italia 1900-2000, exh. cat., Milan, 2007, p. 55

  • Catalogue Essay

    Carlo Bugatti's Eclectic Impulse

    Carlo Bugatti’s work has always existed for its own sake. As the nineteenth century closed, his designs celebrated Aestheticism’s swan song to beauty and exoticism. Simultaneously, they were self‐aware of their bizarre eclecticism far before postmodern designers began to explore the fantastical possibilities of merging multiple historical sources. The legacies of Bugatti are felt throughout postmodern Milanese design especially – the humorous deconstruction of functionality and visual play seen in Ettore Sottsass and other Memphis designers’ works hinge on Bugatti’s radical œuvre. Throughout his career, Bugatti also experimented with the utilitarian nature of his objects. How an object was used was less important for the artist than aesthetics and rich historical associations – it was sufficient that his objects existed and impeded the world with fantasy, knavishly cognisant of their pastiche, intersectional references.

    Bugatti was born in Milan in 1856 to chimneypiece designer Giovanni Luigi Bugatti. As a student, Bugatti initially studied architecture in the Egyptian and Islamic revival styles, but he eventually turned to metalwork and furniture design and by the 1880s and 1890s his signature style was solidified. Characteristically, the present lot alludes to Bugatti’s rich reservoir of historical reminiscences and cultural quotations that he developed throughout his career. Painted on the surface of this game table and its set of matching chairs are natural motifs including leafy reeds and silhouettes of flying birds in a brown wash, akin to the stylised subjects one may find in East Asian scroll painting. The table and two of the chairs are also signed ‘Bugatti’ in elegant script using the same pigment. Both the painted subjects and delicate scrawl of his signatures are evocative of Arabic and Japanese calligraphy as well as Minoan art’s love of an ephemeral, idealised natural world. Perhaps Bugatti’s ability to merge these historic referents in such a unique way is due to the fact that the designer never travelled far from his native Milan or his second home, Paris. His ideas came from seeing international expositions and reading natural history books.
    Consequently, his work boasts a fanciful distance from these sources, creating a stylistic domain acutely his own.

    The present lot was created circa 1902 in Bugatti’s Milanese studio at the height of his fame. During this time, his work boasted elegant sculptural forms and balanced, geometric shapes encased in vellum, causing an impression that each object was comprised of one organic whole. It is not only the multicultural references of the work that make it otherworldly, but its strange materiality and physiognomy as well. While he embraced asymmetry, his work never caved to the streaming tendrils of his Art Nouveau contemporaries. The asymmetry of the present chairs add to their idiosyncratic appearance, yet the pieces are tightly balanced. Like their matching table, they are heavily set on thick feet whose legs taper upward before bulging out around richly ornamented aprons. There, circles or half circles of repoussé brass plaques are surrounded by strips of inlaid pewter and copper designs that form a pattern of stylised insects – complete with brass eyes and wings – that are typical of Bugatti. Additional strips of repoussé brass, hammered to show a variety of geometric shapes in relief, are nailed into the surface edges of the chairs’ seats and table top, respectively. The table top is hinged and opens to reveal an interior compartment, while the chairs’ backrest continues upward and ruptures into a fan of dusky pierced metals and further inlaid ornamentation set into an inverted triangular back support.

    Sketches inform us that Bugatti’s studio practice relied on intensive variations on key themes. This is part of the reason why every Bugatti piece is distinctly of the artist, and why no two pieces are the same.

    Dr. Margaret J. Schmitz


Rare games table and set of four chairs

circa 1902
Vellum-covered wood, repoussé brass, brass, pewter, ebonised veneered-wood, walnut-veneered wood.
Table: 79 x 76 x 76.4 cm (31 1/8 x 29 7/8 x 30 1/8 in.)
Each chair: 87.5 x 40.4 x 48.7 cm (34 1/2 x 15 7/8 x 19 1/8 in.)

Side of table and reverse of two chairs signed Bugatti.

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £93,750

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta E Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Important Design

London Auction 21 March 2019