The Collector: A Man and His Dog
Edward Horswell is the director of London’s Sladmore Gallery, which specializes in sculptures from the late 19th and 20th centuries and has handled many of the animal depictions that Rembrandt Bugatti created. Among these is the 1904 statuette of a rearing elephant that Bugatti’s older brother, Ettore, adopted as a hood ornament for his automobiles.
Mon Chien (“My Dog”), a rendering of a dog that Bugatti named Wurst (“sausage”), is the artist’s only sculpture depicting one of his pets. It could be worth as much as $400,000. “He probably had a terrifically strong bond with his own dog,” says Horswell. “Bugatti was not as gregarious as his brother, Ettore—he was his complete opposite. He was a loner who found human relationships relatively hard, so his dog was really more of a canine friend.”
Bugatti likely made Mon Chien for his own pleasure, but, judging by the number 5 that is stamped on the base of Horswell’s version, the artist cast as many as five of the statuettes from a clay sculpture. (Horswell knows of only one other casting.) Evidently, when Bugatti brought the sculpture to his preferred Paris foundry, the owner, Adrien Hébrard, convinced him that Mon Chien merited a limited edition. (Bugatti committed suicide in 1916, at the age of 31, in Paris and did not leave behind any diaries or letters concerning the dachshund or the castings.)
Horswell’s late father, Harry, purchased the bronze in the late 1960s or early 1970s from a French source and displayed it at the family home, Sladmore Farm, in Buckinghamshire, England. He gave the bronze to his son, who is now 50, sometime in the early 1980s, after Edward had assumed control of the gallery, which his mother, Jane, founded in 1962. Mon Chien’s connections to Horswell’s childhood—“It is a bronze that both my father and mother cherished,” he says—and to his favorite artist make it priceless for him. “I am so obsessed with Bugatti, I wrote a book about him,” he says in reference to Rembrandt Bugatti: Life in Sculpture (Sladmore Gallery Editions, 2004). “To have his sculpture of his dog, well, you can’t get much closer to him than that.”
In addition to Mon Chien, Horswell owns one of Bugatti’s few self-portraits, a small pencil sketch dated June 25, 1909, which the artist drew for a daughter of a friend, Belgian sculptor Josuë Dupon. Bugatti began traveling to Antwerp in 1906 to observe and sculpt the inhabitants of its zoo, which was then considered the best in the world, and Dupon allowed Bugatti to stay with him during several of his early visits. (Eventually, the artist established his own lodgings in Belgium, which he continued to visit until 1914.) Bugatti arrived at Dupon’s home on that summer day to discover that one of his host’s little girls was celebrating her birthday. Embarrassed to appear without a gift in hand, he penciled the head-and-shoulders sketch on the spot, drawing himself with a heart-shaped face, large eyes, and a hint of a smile.
The Dupons are connected to Mon Chien as well: Bugatti boarded his dachshund with the family when he traveled to his Paris studio, and ultimately he gave the pet to his Belgian friends. The artist had returned from a Paris trip to retrieve the dog, and the girls had cried at the thought of losing him. “He didn’t like to see people or animals suffer,” says Horswell, describing how Bugatti decided that Wurst should remain in the Dupon family’s care. “A crying 6-year-old can be very persuasive.”