Raoul Bigazzi (卞根基) – leading specialist in marbles, bronzes and mosaics in the Far East from the 1920s to the 1960s
York Lo: Raoul Bigazzi (卞根基) – leading specialist in marbles, bronzes and mosaics in the Far East from the 1920s to the 1960s
One of Bigazzi’s masterpieces in HK – the mosaic mural of the old HSBC building built in 1935
From the 1920s to 1960s, an Italian sculptor by the name of Raoul Bigazzi from Florence carved out a niche (pun intended) in the Far East as the leading specialist in marbles, bronzes, mosaics, stained glass, wrought iron, terrazzo and tiles in the region working on a wide variety of projects ranging from major office buildings (74 banking premises alone by 1955), train stations and palaces to private residences, public memorials and gravesites of the rich and famous stretching from Peking (Beijing) to Bombay (Mumbai). Bigazzi established his workshop in Hong Kong in 1936 which became his base for business in the region and his operations eventually became the Raoul Bigazzi marble division of Duro Industries after it was acquired by Swire group’s paint manufacturing subsidiary in the 1960s.
Various US border entry records from 1914 (Ellis Island) to 1927 show that Bigazzi was born in 1889 in Pontremoli in Tuscany. He served in the Italian army during World War I but was discharged due to wounds and sickness and traveled to New Zealand in 1918 where he and a French art critic by the name of Willy Rogers gave talks about the War and exhibited their art to raise funds for blind soldiers in France. By the early 1920s, Bigazzi had established a studio in Florence and began soliciting business from the Far East through different agents in each market. In Shanghai, where he first exhibited his sculptures at the French Town Hall in Shanghai in 1921, he was represented by Calatroni, Hsieh & Co at 14 Kiu Kiang Road according to ads in 1928 and worked on the War Memorial at Shanghai Club, the Bank of Taiwan building and the Italian garden for P.C. Sheng, millionaire and son of high ranking official. In Singapore, it was first represented by Frankel Brothers and won the business to build the stone lions guarding the tomb of Johor Bahru millionaire Wong Ah-fook (黃亞福 1837-1918; he has many prominent descendants in HK and Singapore) which were later donated to Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng and the complete decoration of the Eu Villa, the private residence of tin and Chinese medicine tycoon Eu Tong-sen (see article on China International Motors) on Adis Road in Singapore which was built in 1915. In the early 1920s, Bigazzi was also responsible for the marble and bronze decoration of the Kuala Lumpur residence of the planter and miner Choo Kia-peng (朱嘉炳) and the new Singapore office of the Union Insurance Society of Canton. He also did artistic works for the palace of the King of Siam in Bangkok.
Advertisement for Bigazzi in Singapore in 1924 by its agent Frankel Brothers (Malaya Tribune., 20 November 1924, Page 1)
Marble statue of Chan Kai-ming by Bigazzi at the HK Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Aberdeen (left) and the article about the Chan Kai-ming commission back in 1922 (right) – Malaya Tribune, Jan 11, 1922, p5
In 1922, Bigazzi won his first major contract in Hong Kong – the construction of a marble and bronze memorial for Chan Kai-ming (aka George Tyson), the opium farmer and legislator at the Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Aberdeen which still stands today. Represented in the colony by C.E. Warren & Co, a leading firm in the construction of monuments, bathrooms and drains in HK from 1898 to 1941, Bigazzi completed marble and bronze statues for prominent figures in HK such as Sir Shouson Chow, Fung Ping-shan, Sir Robert Hotung and his two wives and the Yunnan warlord Tang Chi-yao. By 1929, when Bigazzi visited Malaya with his artistic director Angelo Vanetti, who was a high member of the Italian Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, he was on his 18th trip around the world. (Malaya Tribune, Feb 5, 1929) By the 1930s, Bigazzi was represented by Guthrie & Co in Singapore and Malaya and some of its most famous projects during the decade include the palace of the Sultan of Perak (1930), the Meyer Chambers (1930, later renamed OUB Chambers and demolished to make way for OUB Centre in the 1980s) and the KPM Building in Singapore (1931, later renamed the Nedlloyd Building). In 1932, Bigazzi completed his most famous work in Singapore – the four triumphal sculptures in the façade of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station which sculpted by Vanetti.
Left: Hong Kong ad by its representative C.E. Warren & Co in 1930 (SCMP); Middle: Article about the establishment of Bigazzi’s bronze statue foundry in HK in 1936 (KSDN, 1936-10-19); Right: one of the four Bigazzi sculptures at the Tanjong Pagar station in Singapore (“R” as in “Railway”)
In the early years, Bigazzi and his colleagues typically built their initial models in Asia based on life seating or photographs which they shipped back to Florence for full-scale production. By the early-mid 1930s Bigazzi was getting a lot of business from Asia, particularly in Hong Kong where it was involved in the Venetian mosaic in the lobby of the new HSBC building in 1935 (he also worked on HSBC buildings in Singapore and Shanghai) and was responsible for most of the sculptures of Eu Tong-sen’s Eucliff and Euston castles. In 1936, Bigazzi decided to relocate to HK where he established his bronze foundry for local production. He was naturalized as a British subject in Hong Kong in 1938. In 1941, Bigazzi (who by then was a HK juror with listed address as 26 Canal Road West) was involved in the quartzite facing for the Loke Yew Building in Central and the Chinese style bronze gate for the King George V Memorial Park in Kowloon.
Ad for Raoul Bigazzi’s bronze ornamental works in 1939 (Hong Kong and South China builder, vol.4 no.4 (August & September, 1939)
During the Japanese occupation, Bigazzi as a British citizen was interned at the Stanley internment camp despite of his Italian origins (Italy being an ally of Japan at the time). After the War, he resumed his business in HK and Singapore. In the 1949 HK, Macao and Canton Directory, Bigazzi’s HK office was listed as on the 2nd floor of the Union Building in Central with bronze foundry and workshop located at Godown 1, 3, 5 and 7 at Wing Loong Street on Castle Peak Road. In 1952, A. Clouet & Co was appointed as agent for Raoul Bigazzi in Singapore and the firm was responsible for many works in post-War Singapore including the Commercial Union building (1955), the marble finishing for Crosby House on Robinson Road, the Bank of China building (1954), Finlayson House (later renamed Denmark House), Odeon Cinema (1953) and the Lim Bo Seng Memorial at Esplanade Park (marble pagoda with bronze lions, 1954).
Back in HK, Bigazzi was given the contract in 1953 to restore the Queen Victoria statue which was damaged during the Japanese occupation. The statue, which was considered a symbol of British imperialism, was originally cast in 1890 and unveiled at Statue Square in Central in 1896. It was shipped to Japan during the occupation and was recovered at the Sakurajima Arsenal in Osaka in 1946. After three years of careful restoration work, the statue, back in its former glory, was placed in its current location in Victoria Park in 1955. He also did the bronze bust of Brother Aimar, the founder of La Salle College, which was unveiled on campus in 1963 and now graces the entrance of the current school building.
Left: Hong Kong ad in 1950 (HKBCA yearbook); Right: Singapore ad by Jardine Waugh for Raoul Bigazzi as a division of Swire’s Duro Industries in 1968 (Strait Times)
Raoul Bigazzi died sometime in the mid-1960s and Duro Industries, the paint manufacturing subsidiary of the Swire group acquired his firm and operated it as the Raoul Bigazzi Marble Division. Aside from marble, the business remained involved in mosaic, quartzite, terrazzo, granite and monuments but exited the bronze statue business. By the 1980s, it was operating out of the ground floor of Kin Lion Mansion at 28-30 North Street in West Point on HK island. The 1987 HK Dollar Directory still lists the Bigazzi marble division as an active business with P. L. Zanzanaini as manager. A reference letter for business partner Sunway Metal Manufactory in 1995 listed many buildings for which Bigazzi was responsible for its granite work – the HK Club Building, Shui On Centre, Ramada Inn Kowloon, No 2 Island Road, No 9 Queen’s Road Central, Wyndham Street Plaza, 100-114 Canton Road, 9 Old Peak Road and 10-14 Stanley Street. As a firm, Raoul Bigazzi Ltd was incorporated in 1962 but was renamed Taikoo Sugar Investments Ltd in 1996 which was probably when it ceased its operations.
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This article was first posted on 10th June 2019.
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