Rembrandt Bugatti Masterpieces from the S. Joel Schur Collection for Sotheby’s Auction

Sotheby’s New York will offer, as part of its May 5 and 6 Impressionist and Modern Art Evening and Day sales, Property from the S. Joel Schur Collection, perhaps the finest collection of masterpieces by Rembrandt Bugatti in private hands. Bugatti was a singular figure whose vision was devoted to unique and powerfully modern sculptures of exotic animals.

The group comprises eleven sculptures to be offered in both the Evening and Day sales, and will feature such iconic masterworks as a Babouin Sacré Hamadryas (est. $2/3 million), a male and female Lion and Lionne de Nubie (est. $1.5/2 million and $1.2/1.8 million, respectively) and a Grande Girafe Tête Basse (est. $1/1.5 million).

Bugatti was unique among modernist sculptors in focusing on depictions of exotic animals. He was so fascinated by these creatures and their behavioral nuances that he studied them in person as much as he could, working primarily outdoors at the Jardin Zoologique in Antwerp after moving to the city in 1907. It was at the Antwerp Zoo, known then as the finest in all of Europe, that Bugatti was his most productive and content. Officials at the zoo actively encouraged artists, both painters and sculptors, to work on their grounds; Bugatti would arrive at the zoo early in the day, set up his tools outside an animal’s enclosure, and attempt to capture the animal’s grace with his fingers and tools in clay. Following the completion of his models, the works were cast in bronze by Adrien Hébrard’s foundry, which was known to produce the highest quality casts and represented avant-garde artists such as Degas, Dalou and Jouve.

The Babouin Sacré Hamadryas (est. $2/3 million) is among Bugatti’s most celebrated sculptures and was one of the last major works that the artist created before his death in 1916. The form of the animal, positioned characteristically on all fours, is surprisingly modern given the artist’s faithful attention to the nuances of the simian form. The present example is numbered 8 of only 11 recorded bronze casts.

The male and female Lion and Lionne de Nubie elegantly represent the king and queen of the jungle (est. $1.5/2 million and $1.2/1.8 million, respectively). The Nubian Lion is the largest of the lion species, presently extinct in the wild, with only 40 believed to be left in captivity in Europe. The mighty Lion is posed with all fours in perfect alignment with careful attention to his muscular hindquarters and his perfectly groomed mane, which frames the creature’s face in angular planes. The male lion was only cast by the Hébrard Foundry in a edition of three; the present lot is the first of that edition, and is one of the finest examples of Bugatti’s craft. The Lionne du Nubie depicts the female hunter on the prowl. Like her male companion, the lioness stands alert with her gaze darting forward, the linear beauty of her smooth flesh and musculature depicted as if Bugatti could feel the creature with his hands. Both the Lion and Lionne are numbered one from their respective editions, and were formerly in the esteemed collection of C. Templeton Crocker of San Francisco.

The graceful Grand Girafe Tête Basse (est. $1/1.5 million), with its willowy neck arched towards the earth, exemplifies Bugatti’s brilliance at capturing the linear elegance of the animal’s anatomy.

Leading the selection of works to be offered in the Day Sale is an exceedingly rare Chimpanzé Assis sur une Boule (est. $300/500,000). When examining the work, the viewer can immediately appreciate the quick, artful application of medium, culminating in a bravado expression of a primate ready to swagger from his base. The lost wax process employed to cast the sculpture enabled every detail to be capture, even a portion of the artist’s fingerprint visible on the chimpanzee’s left arm. Sotheby’s Day Sale offerings from the Schur Collection will also feature many of Bugatti’s rare cat and bird models, including the animated Petit Panther (est. $200,000-300,000) and the artist’s complete series of graceful Jabirus.

Image: Rembrandt Bugatti, Lion de Nubie. Bronze. Conceived circa 1909-10 and cast between 1909 and circa 1934 in an edition of only 3 examples. Length 26 1/4 in., 66.8 cm. Est. $1.5/2 million. Photo: Sotheby’s