Samuel Bugeja 1920-2004

The Silent Artist

Samuel Bugeja
Summary and Introduction

“Poetry in Wood. Without any shadow of a doubt Samuel Bugeja was the leading sculptor in the second half of the 20th Century (1945 - 2000) and a professional restorer with rich technical talent and experience. Samuel was greatly respected, widely appreciated, deeply cherished and highly recommended especially by his mentor Profs. Cesare Brandi”.
Renowned Art Critic and University Lecturer, EV Borg 2004.
Divine Comedy Salome

SAMUEL BUGEJA was born in Rabat, Malta on the 27th April 1920. Being the son of a woodcarver he started carving at a very early age. He was apprenticed under the guidance of Carmelo and Benjamin Tonna, renowned woodcarvers from Rabat at the time. In 1940 at the young age of just 20 years he solely completed the massive wood-carvings of the organ balcony at the Naxxar Parish Church. It was a major success acclaimed by all. Samuel never looked back.

In 1942 he was employed by the celebrated Antonio Sciortino as Restorer in the Restoration Section of the Malta National Museum. In the meantime, he won the competitive School of Art scholarship for sculpture, enabling him to proceed with further studies abroad. Initially, Samuel studied at the Leicester College of Art in England (1948 / 1949) where he proved himself to be the most capable artist in all branches of Sculpture. Later in 1955 / 1956 Samuel continued his overseas scholarships, this time fully focused on Restoration at the Centro del Restauro in Rome. This was another major milestone. Samuel was presented with a prestigious certificate by Professor Cesare Brandi openly declaring the high technical level and excellent professional qualities of Samuel in Restoration. Whilst in Rome he was also entrusted in carrying out various restoration works on some of the most important paintings by famous great artists, like Caravaggio, Van Dyck, Domenichino and others.

Samuel’s success abroad was clearly recognized in Malta and on his return to Malta he was commissioned to restore the fresco vaults of the Mdina Cathedral in Malta. This intricate and highly delicate work spanned over a period of 16 years. Amongst the innumerable restoration works carried out by Samuel in churches both in Malta and Gozo, the restoration of St. Paul’s Polyptych, a mediaeval painting in wood belonging to the Mdina Cathedral Museum, extended his rich portfolio.

In 1957 Samuel was appointed Art Master in Secondary Schools in the Education Department as well as teacher of Carving and Modelling at the School of Art. After 35 years of service, Samuel retired as Head-Master as well as Acting-Head Master of the School of Art.

Samuel took part in several exhibitions in Malta and abroad and has works in private collections in Malta, England, Italy, America and Australia. Samuel staged two important solo exhibitions where his traditional and modern styles in wood-carving were clearly manifested. He sculpted various artistic pieces in wood such as The Divine Comedy, The Monk, The Mermaid, The Ballerina, Salome’, St.John of the Cross, The Future, Maternity, Mother and Child and the Queen of Life/Peace. These are held in private collections.

Gozo Catherdral - Pedestal & Base

In 1967 during a Maltese Contemporary Exhibition in London, Samuel Bugeja’s wooden statue ‘Mother and Child’ was bought by the “Friends of Malta” Society Chairman, Sir Basil Lindsay-Fynn. Another interpretation ‘Mother and Child’ was acquired by the Maltese National Museum of Fine Arts.

Samuel was married to Helen (a.k.a. Nellie) Mahoney and had six children. He worked tremendously, with great enthusiasm and passion. Samuel was a reserved and deeply spiritual person. Samuel died on the 18th January 2004.

To celebrate Samuel Bugeja's 100th anniversary, Meander (the highly respected cultural TV programme on Net TV) produced 2 dedicated programmes. These programmes, together with this newly dedicated website, highlighted Samuel Bugeja's key works of art throughout his career.
Meander Samuel Bugeja Feature - Part 1
Meander Samuel Bugeja Feature - Part 2