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c. 1907

Carlo Bugatti

(Italian, 1856-1940)

designed by

Inlaid wood (mahogany?), cast and gilded bronze mounts, inlays of ivory or bone, metal, and mother-of-pearl (marine mussels or pearl oysters)

Overall: 71.5 x 67.1 x 41.3 cm (28 1/8 x 26 7/16 x 16 1/4 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1991.45

Fun Fact

Luxurious materials might catch your eye first, but look closer to discover the imaginary creatures that adorn the surface of this table. Paired with arches, a favorite motif that appeared throughout Bugatti's career, this fantastical imagery is a window into the designer's expressive imagination and suggests that Bugatti prized form over function.


The table is decorated with patterns of marquetry and cast and gilt metal mounts based on highly stylized insect forms-motifs that dominated Bugatti's imagination through much of his career. The table's use of ovoid arches as supporting elements also reflects Bugatti's continued fascination with this motif. Beautifully crafted, the entire ensemble typifies Bugatti's standard of technical excellence. Seldom has so much care and skill been brought to bear in the creation of luxury objects that were actually designed more to amaze and delight the viewer than to be truly useful. This tea set, salver, and table, together with some now missing cups, were all designed by Bugatti as an ensemble. They were probably acquired from his 1907 exhibition at the Galerie Hébrard in Paris by a wealthy South African widow, Anna Blake, who was living there at the time. It is said that Bugatti's work appealed to her because it reminded her of Africa. Some of the animal and insect motifs suggest mythical beasts or the fossils of prehistoric animals. When Mrs. Blake returned to Cape Town, she took these and other pieces designed by Bugatti with her, and they remained in South Africa until about 20 years ago.

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