Rembrandt Bugatti is the son of Carlo Bugatti, an automobile designer, while his godfather is sculptor Ercole Rosa. It was he who advised his parents to name him Rembrandt, which encapsulates for the little boy a destiny as an artist.
Although his parents steered him toward a career in engineering, Bugatti soon showed an aptitude for sculpture, which led him to move to Paris with his family to rue Jeanne-d’Arc.
In his early French months he spent much time in the city zoo, intent on observing and studying exotic animals, noting their movements, anatomies, and attitudes. A kind of affection is established between Rembrandt and the zoo animals, who almost represent the only friends of the artist, whose character is shy and solitary.
The animalier sculpture: rough and vibrant surfaces
He began making his animalier subjects in his rue Duméril studio, remembering the animals by heart and executing the sculptures quickly and instinctively, keeping in mind especially at the outset the scapigliata and scabrous vein of Paul Troubetzkoy (1866-1938), a friend of his father’s.
His debut came at the 1903 Venice Biennale, with the two bronzes Cavalli and Cane, with vibrant and tormented surfaces that made him immediately known in the eyes of critics. Only later was the torment replaced by the original and skillful synthesis of movement and elegance of planes. At the 1906 National Fine Arts Exhibition in Milan he exhibited Father and Son, The Hippopotamus and Ten Minutes of Rest, while at the 1907 Biennale he presented Chinese Deer, Elephant and Lion Devouring a Bone.
Between Paris and Antwerp: a restless animalist
At the 1910 Biennial he presented no fewer than sixteen works, including Yawning Tiger, Camels, Two Storks, Jaguar, Gazelle, Auroc, Rhinoceros, Group of Zebu. Epidermis, muscles, poses, movements of animals are caught in the suggestion of a moment, transferred to bronze without the mediation of studies and sketches. Marabou, antelope, elephant, tiger, puma, deer appear in his repertoire. In 1911 at the International Exhibition in Rome he exhibited Sitting Jaguar, Resting Jaguar and Tiger. This was followed by participation in the Roman Secession in 1913 where he exhibited seven sculptures, including Giraffe, Two Storks and Three-Year-Old Rhinoceros.
In 1914, he participated in his last Biennale with Cynocephalus Monkey, Deer, Elephant, Antelope and Goats. A restless personality, he nevertheless participated in numerous exhibitions and befriended the gallerist Adrien Hébrard, from whom he exhibited on several occasions. The war surprises and deeply upsets him: he goes through a very difficult period in which he approaches religion. It generates in him particular distress the killing of the zoo animals near the conflict, to prevent them from creating problems during the bombing. He fled to Holland, where he stayed for a few months, but in 1916, after managing to return to Paris, he committed suicide in his house in rue Joseph Bara.