Carlo Bugatti


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A leading figure in design and the decorative arts in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Carlo Bugatti is perhaps best known for his exotic, handcrafted furniture designs. Many progressive developments in the 19th century, particularly the British Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau, influenced his work. By the early years of the 20th century, his work was characterized by an original and distinctive manipulation of materials and flat decorative forms with reminiscences of exotic, oriental, and Middle Eastern forms. He is remembered also as the father of Ettore (1881–1947) and grandfather of Jean (1909–39), key members of the famous Bugatti automobile company. His other son, Rembrandt Bugatti (1885–1916) was a celebrated animal sculptor.

After studying art at the Brera Academy in Milan, he established a furniture workshop in the city in 1888. His earliest designs were typified by a wooden bedroom suite that he designed to celebrate his sister's marriage in 1880. Blending pseudo‐Moorish details with naturalistic painted decorative features reminiscent of Japanese design, its aesthetic typified his early work. Such features were noted in favourable reviews of his furniture at the 1888 Italian Exhibition at Earl's Court, London. By the middle of the following decade he began to make greater use of geometrically derived patterns and strong shapes, together with a frequent use of vellum, a phase of activity that culminated in the award of a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. However, it was at the 1902 Turin International Exhibition of Decorative Arts that he attracted widespread notice, showing four rooms and a furniture collection. Dramatic shapes, flowing, sculptural Art Nouveau‐redolent forms, and striking interior surface patterns—particularly in his ‘Snail Room’—led to the jury's unanimous award to Bugatti of the Diploma of Honour. In 1904, for family reasons, he moved to Paris, where he resumed his practice of the fine arts whilst continuing to produce work for leading stores such as Bon Marché in Paris and De Vecchi in Milan. In December 1907 he showed silverware at the Galerie Hébrard in Paris, attracting avourable notice in the Studio. His use of organic, naturalistic detail, often based on insect and animal themes, continued at the Salon des Artistes‐Décorateurs in 1910 and 1911 and was praised on each occasion in the periodical Art et décoration. He also designed jewellery, employing similar decorative motifs.

Subjects: Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design — Industrial and Commercial Art.

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