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The Art Nouveau Furniture of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940)


The Art Nouveau Furniture of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) 4When we hear the name "Bugatti," the first thought that comes to mind are the French Rivera, gorgeous fast cars and a distinct absence of seat belts and air bags. Bugatti was responsible for some of the most wonderful cars ever built. But that was the work of Ettore Bugatti. Carlo was his father. The apple did not fall far from the tree.

We have a tendency today to wax nostalgic over the long apprenticeships that cabinetmakers had, their level of skill and the long, honest craft tradition that they represented. Today, all over the United States one is more likely to find a cabinetmaker with degrees in architecture or design than someone who just had an apprenticeship. This is one reason why modern design has moved away from expressions of craft to expressions of shapes and materials. There is nothing wrong with that -- and a lot right with it. And maybe we can say the modern furniture maker also follows in the long tradition of furniture makers and designers. Carlo was trained as an architect in Italy and Paris, and set up his furniture factory at the age of 24.

When I think of Art Nouveau, I think of the bentwood chairs of Thonet or the sinuous lines of early 20th century French casework. Bugatti's works to my eye are more Victorian plus plus. Delicate, covered in leather, with tons of expensive inlay in silver and copper, the works look pricey (and they were), but they are less a revolution in design than an incremental move towards luxury.

I saw this suite of furniture last week at the New York Art and Antiques show at the Armory. I had never seen any Bugatti furniture in the flesh (so to speak) before, and the suite was a standout in a crowded hall of objets d'arte. Bugatti furniture isn't common in museum furniture collections, and seeing it in person made me wonder if this is because Bugatti is neither fish nor fowl as a designer. Bugatti furniture is a blend of Victorian form with Art Nouveau decoration, but it doesn't fall directly in either camp.
The Art Nouveau Furniture of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) 5
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12/02/2015 Jeremy
I see the Victorian hues, but to my eye the work looks Arabic....Moroccan maybe.
This stuff really stands out to me as pretty unique- almost in the way that Greene & Greene stand out among Arts & Crafts designs. I really enjoy you chronicling your museum visits as I live out in Colorado and don't get to the east coast to see all these things hardly ever. I'm going to look further into this Bugatti fellow and his work.
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