Alain Delon’s menagerie of sculptures by Rembrandt Bugatti

Rembrandt Bugatti — brother of Ettore Bugatti, founder of the eponymous automobile company — was a brilliant sculptor of animals. Touched by the story of Bugatti's premature death, the actor Alain Delon has amassed a superb collection of his work

‘This selection of 12 works by Rembrandt Bugatti belongs to the famous actor Alain Delon,’ explains specialist Pauline de Smedt, introducing a collection of bronze animals and female figures by the artist, to be offered at Christie’s Paris in the sale Centenaire Bugatti, on 22 November. 

Rembrandt Bugatti was part of a family of ‘extraordinary’ talent, explains de Smedt. ‘The father, Carlo, was a cabinetmaker, and he had two sons: Ettore, who created the automobile brand, and Rembrandt, the sculptor.’ In 1902 the family moved to Paris where, surrounded by a community of artisans, the young Bugattis’ creativity flourished. 

Rembrandt Bugatti 1884-1916, Cerf Bramant, circa 1905. 41.5 x 48.5 x 21.5 cm (16⅜ x 19⅛ x 8 in). Estimate €100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in Centenaire Bugatti on 22 November 2016 at Christie’s in Paris

Rembrandt Bugatti 1884-1916, Cerf Bramant, circa 1905. 41.5 x 48.5 x 21.5 cm (16⅜ x 19⅛ x 8 in). Estimate: €100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in Centenaire Bugatti on 22 November 2016 at Christie’s in Paris

From an early age, Rembrandt displayed an affinity with animals. He spent hours in Paris’s botanical gardens, later moving to Antwerp, where the city zoo — at that time the largest in Europe — became the source of inspiration for several sculptures. Unusually, he didn’t work from sketches of the creatures he depicted, but sculpted from life, shaping his clay beside the zoo enclosures. 

Bugatti’s easy affinity with animals masked a more complex relationship with human beings. ‘He didn’t find other people very easy,’ reveals de Schmidt, explaining that the world of animals became a ‘refuge’ for him. Bouts of depression plagued the artist and, in 1916, soon after the outbreak of World War I and having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, he took his own life aged just 31.

Although tragically short, Bugatti’s career showed remarkable evolution from his early, naturalistic representations of animals to later, Impressionist works, where the evidence of the artist’s hands is pronounced. ‘Your immediate reaction is to touch them,’ says de Smedt. ‘Bugatti’s animals come alive — he loved them so much, and put so much emotion into them.’