Patriarch of the famous Bugatti family, Carlo was an innovative designer in turn-of-the-century Italy. From furniture to painting to jewelry, he envisioned no definitive line between fine and applied art, resulting in refined designs with distinctively artistic characteristics. Allusions to various cultures and time periods make Bugatti’s pieces both historically referential and ground-breaking. He is most recognized for the unique combination of modern forms and decorative Moorish details found in his work. Easily identified as Bugatti’s, these combinations differentiated his work from that of his contemporaries and a testament to his distinct style came in 1893 when the firm of Merroni and Fossati displayed pieces called Bugotto at the Chicago World’s Fair.
The late 1880s proved to be an important time for Bugatti—he was included in both the Industrial Arts Exhibition in Milan and the Italian Exhibition at London’s Earl’s Court. His furniture dating from this period (1888-1900) utilized ebonized wood heavily decorated with metal inlays. Successful from the start, Bugatti was given a diploma of honor for his pieces in the London show and by 1898 he had opened his own workshop in Milan.
The 1902 Exposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna in Turin marked another public presentation of Bugatti’s furniture. For the exhibition, Bugatti designed pieces covered almost entirely in parchment, hiding the joints and details and giving the appearance of solid, unified forms. The arched lines of his earlier style were replaced with almost full circles, while detailed metal plaques remained integral components to his designs.
Following his move from Milan to Paris in 1904, Bugatti's professional direction changed. The Turin exposition marked his last phase of furniture design. In Milan it had been his primary focus, but in Paris he began exploring other objects. By 1905 he was described as a sculptor and before his death in 1940, he went on to produce jewelry, musical instruments, paintings and architecture. Bugatti’s highly innovative designs were radical for borrowing styles and symbols from around the world and emblematized a defining time in modern design when functional considerations were displaced by expressions of style and personality.
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