Today in Automotive History: Rembrandt Bugatti Dies
Rembrandt Bugatti, brother to car builder Ettore, was an accomplished wildlife sculptor and World War 1 paramedic aide; he died January 8, 1916, after taking his own life.
The Bugatti name is world famous for many cars, including one made under the watch of Ettore and one in the 21st century under the ownership of Volkswagen. The 57S Atlantic is arguably one of the most beautiful cars ever created, and, with the addition of the supercharged inline-8 and a top speed of 120mph, the fastest car of its era. Because so few examples of the 57S exist, they all command incredibly high prices on the rare occasion one crosses the auction block (one of two supercharged 57s was sold in 2010 at a sum between $30-40 million). The Veyron Super Sport is currently the fastest production vehicle in the world, reaching 60mph in 2.4 seconds and capping at 258mph. Although the Veyron would never win any beauty contests, its performance is unmatched, at least for now.
Rembrandt decided to take a different route than his brother, and turned his attention to art instead. He started with woodcarvings and paintings before settling on making bronze sculptures of his favorite subject: animals. Rembrandt’s biography on the Bugatti website lists his oldest surviving bronze sculpture as a mooing cow, created in 1901. Rembrandt was respected in his time and relocated to Belgium in 1907, where he frequented the Antwerp Zoo.
Things began taking a turn for the worse for Rembrandt in the mid-1910s, beginning with the slaughter of the animals residing in the Antwerp Zoo. Afraid that a bombing run could free the dangerous animals and unleash them upon the city, zoo officials commanded the animals be put down should such an attack occur (this was repeated during WWII). Rembrandt also volunteered as a paramedic aide during the war; he subsequently sank into a deep depression after being exposed to the horrors of war. His pieces were not as prized as they once were, and the younger Bugatti began to run into financial difficulties. These problems were too much for Rembrandt to handle, and he committed suicide on January 8, 1916.
The famous rearing elephant from the Bugatti Royale. From bugatti.com
Like many influential artists, Rembrandt Bugatti’s work became more famous in the decades after his death. His sculpture of a rearing elephant was immortalized as the hood ornament perched atop the radiator cap of the Bugatti Royale, and recent sales of his work have fetched a couple million dollars each. Today, he is remembered as a particularly skilled artist and one of the reasons the Bugatti Royale is considered to be one of the most beautiful cars of all time.