The Animal Gazer

Written by Edgardo Franzosini Michael F. Moore (trans.)
Review by G. J. Berger

This novella presents a fact-based portrait of animal sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti over his last decade (1906-1916). Interactions with his brother (the famed auto maker), with Rodin, zoo keepers, his landlords, and street peddlers give readers a view into the artist’s soul. Above all, Bugatti is obsessed with wild beasts. For many days, he studies his subjects at zoos in the major cities of France, Belgium, and Italy. He even keeps two antelopes in his apartment over a summer.

The times leading up to and during the Great War are horrible for zoo animals and their admirers. Bugatti watches helplessly as the German war machine moves ever closer, local defenders are crushed, and all zoo animals are slaughtered. He aimlessly wanders city streets until recruited to become a stretcher bearer and lug the wounded up to a hollowed-out zoo for desperately-needed medical attention. The inhumanity of humans exacts the ultimate toll, and, at age 31, Bugatti takes his own life.

Translated from the original Italian, the prose is plain and unsentimental, allowing the stark facts to speak for themselves. High-resolution photographs of eight masterful Bugatti animal sculptures enhance the story’s impact. This could well have been a “bigger” work with deeper explorations of Bugatti’s childhood, his family, and how he came to his craft. Though short, The Animal Gazer will appeal to any reader interested in the life and troubled times of a masterful, not widely-known, artist.