Michael Henry Irving (descendant of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont and Washington Irving)
Thence by descent
VIII Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia 1909, Catalogo Illustrato, Venice, 1909, p. 124 (for a documented list of bronze sculptures exhibited by Bugatti at the 1909 Venice Biennale)
Mary Harvey, The Bronzes of Rembrandt Bugatti (1885-1916): An Illustrated Catalogue and Biography, London, 1979, p. 64 (for the "petit modèle")
Philippe Dejean, Bugatti: Carlo, Rembrandt, Ettore, Jean, New York, 1982, p. 190 (for the "petit modèle")
Jacques-Chalom des Cordes and Véronique Fromanger des Cordes, Rembrandt Bugatti, catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1987, pp. 186-187 (for the "petit modèle" and the plaster model of "Deux Girafes")
Edward Horswell, Rembrandt Bugatti: Life in Sculpture, London, 2004, p. 21 (for the "petit modèle")
This provocative sculpture, known as the “Drinking Giraffe,” was executed by Rembrandt Bugatti in two sizes. Distinguished by its commanding scale, this giraffe represents the rare “grand modèle.” It is numbered one of only three bronze casts known to have been executed in this monumental size. Approximately twenty bronze casts of this giraffe were executed by Hébrard in a “petit modèle.” Standing just over six inches tall, the smaller model is comparatively diminutive in scale.
Synonymous with Bugatti’s early repertoire, this spectacular model is highly evocative and engaging. Bugatti appears to have captured the giraffe in a spontaneous fleeting moment. The subtle yet intentional curvature of the base suggests the animal is standing at the edge of a watering hole, staring intently at a subject that has caught its attention while drinking. Bugatti has masterfully captured the reflex posture of the giraffe, most notably in the articulation of its overlapping hind legs and outstretched neck.
In 1907, Bugatti executed a monumental plaster model entitled "Deux Girafes," which now resides in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay. Two giraffes stand on one integral base, one with its neck held vertically upright, the other with its neck extended forward, standing in a similar posture to the giraffe offered here. Only one bronze cast was executed by Hébrard, which is evidenced by the engraved inscription on the base, “pièce unique.” Hébrard most likely cast a limited series of “Girafe en Train de Boire” shortly thereafter the execution of “Deux Girafes,” further defining several details to the model. For instance, the single model displays a greater exaggeration to the angle of the splayed front legs, and the hind legs which subtly overlap are in a more complex and ambitious configuration.
The giraffe presently offered was exhibited by Bugatti in 1909 at the Venice Biennale. The sculpture remarkably retains two large paper labels on the underbase from this exposition. An Italian publication from the period documents that Bugatti presented sixteen sculptures in “sala 31” and “sala 32” at the 1909 Biennale, including a “Giraffa.”
The 1909 exhibition provenance pertaining to the first cast of this model is further documented in the Rembrandt Bugatti Archives. Additionally, Louis Comfort Tiffany is recorded to have acquired the second and third casts of this model. The second cast was later acquired by Dr. Arthur R. Metz, a prolific collector of animalier sculpture. The giraffe was gifted by The Metz Foundation to the Indiana University Art Museum in 1994. No information is presently known regarding the whereabouts of the third cast following Tiffany’s ownership. This offering represents this rare model’s debut on the auction market and presents the collecting community with an extraordinary opportunity to acquire one of Bugatti’s truly great works.
Sotheby’s wishes to thank Véronique Fromanger for her research assistance in cataloguing the Bugatti sculptures offered in this sale.
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