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Chiparus and Preiss – doyens among Art Deco sculptors

By Christopher Proudlove ©

by Christopher Proudlove©
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preiss flame leaper


The new house is causing a problem: it’s just not conducive to anything older than antiques dating from the Twenties.

This means that our old oak looks somewhat out of place and I dread to think what is going to happen to our Victorian knickknacks.

Of course, the answer is simple: sell it all and replace it with Art Deco. Easy, so long as funds permit, which is where the main problem lies. Worryingly, I suspect that with trends being as they are, the cash raised from selling the Victoriana wouldn’t stretch far enough to make the project a proposition.

If funds were not an issue, I’d buy bronze and ivory figures like the examples pictured here.

I think it’s a safe bet to say that they’ll never be any less affordable than they are now but sadly they are already the preserve of only those collectors with deep pockets.

Two names stand above all others in this fascinating field of Art Deco: Demetre Chiparus (1888-1947) and Ferdinand Preiss (1882-1943) their products coming at a pivotal moment in the early 20th century between two world wars.

By then, the sinuous flower girls of the Art Nouveau era had withered and died, to be replaced by the athletic, erotic and futuristic subjects that are today so evocative of the period.

Ironically, however, when they were first seen, the more serious-minded art critics were dismissive of the figures, some of them suggesting they considered them to be in bad taste.

This is particularly the case with the Rumanian-born Chiparus who barely figures in contemporary articles on the decorative arts, with the result that today’s collectors have scant information about his life. Indeed, some publications claim his dates of birth and death are unknown.

Chiparus was schooled in Italy and then Paris just before the outbreak of the First World War where he was a pupil of the sculptors Anonin Mercier and Jean Boucher.

His first exhibition was at the Salon of the Société des Artistes Français in 1914. He showed a number of small sculptures in bronze and received an honourable mention, an accolade that was much coveted among the artistic fraternity.

Another recipient of the award was Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Chiparus subsequently went on to experiment with the process of combining painted bronze with ivory, a technique known as chryselephantine.

The use of ivory for faces, hands and bare flesh gave the figures more natural, lifelike and tactile and adds greatly to their exotic appeal.

Chiparus became a naturalised Frenchman, married and had several children, some of whom feature in his figures.

However, he was fascinated by the dancers in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, who entertained the cafe society in Paris, Leon Bakst’s stage designs and subsequently the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 which heavily influenced his designs and subject matter.

Some Chiparus figures were made in spelter cold-painted to represent bronze and ivorene, an early plastic, which was cast and also painted in bright colours.

Other examples of his work can be seen in the bronze figures commissioned by the firm of Arthur Goldscheider which were also reproduced in pottery.

Authentic examples of Chiparus brionzes (although by no means all) are each etched with this signature in the marble base and some show the name of the foundry where they were cast. However, there are many fakes.

Another distinguishing feature is the long slender fingers of the subjects. Look carefully and the detail of each fingernail is also carved delicately in the original, a feature the faker overlooks.

Johann Philipp Ferdinand Preiss was born in Erbach in Germany and clearly inherited his mother’s skills as her family was engaged in the local cottage industry of ivory-carving.

His father was a hotelier but died when Preiss was 15, whereupon the boy was apprenticed to a master ivory carver whose family took him in.

By 1905, Preiss had emerged as a gifted carver in his own right and after a period studying in Milan, he joined a number of carvers working in a factory run by Carl Haebler in Baden-Baden.

Among them was Arthur Kassler and the two became friends and subsequently business partners in a workshop in Berlin where they produced turned and carved ivory for the local furniture and decorative trade.

The first figures combining bronze and ivory were introduced in 1910, by which time the company was trading as PK.

By the time of the First World War, the firm employed six people, including a bronze caster but was forced to close in 1914 on the outbreak.

Popular throughour Europe

Preiss and Kassler reopened the business in 1920, concentrating on producing a wide variety of exquisite figures designed by Preiss mounted on plinths of onyz or marble which were popular throughout Europe, particularly Britain, and the US.

In addition to nude studies, bathers, dancers, couples, children and historical figures, Priess also produced a series of Olympic-inspired figures showing men and women engaged in such sports as swimming, tennis and golf. They pre-date any connection with Hitler and the master race.

Preiss suffered a brain tumour and died in 1943 and the firm PK firm died with him. The company’s workshop and its stock of samples was destroyed by fire in a ombing raid on Berlin in 1945.

As with all other bronze and ivory figures, those by Preiss have been faked mercilessly.

Advice to prospective buyers is to learn as much as you can first before parting with your hard-earned cash. Visit auction sales and expert dealers and handle what’s on offer to get the feel of the real thing.

Ivory that has turned yellow with age should be avoided since it lowers value, as does age-cracked or damaged ivory, particularly on the faces of figures.

And finally, ask for written proof of authenticity should you buy from a dealer. If he declines to guarantee a figure is what he says it is, chances are both it and he are wrong ‘uns. You, in turn, are safer keeping your cash in the building society.

Pictures show, top:

The Flame Leaper, a well known Preiss figure of a young woman leaping over flames holding flaming torches in each hand. She’s worth £12,000-15,000

Below, left to right:

Cabaret Girl, a Preiss figure wearing a bathing suit and cap. She’s worth £6,000-8,000

Perfect Preiss: Left to right, Golfer, Hoop Girl, Sonny Boy and Bather with parasol. Preiss was a master at capturing the natural expressions of his models. Each is worth £4,000-6,000

Miss Kita, a dancing girl with beaded top and headdress and stylish frilled skirt. She’s worth £8,000-10,000

Bottom, left to right:

The Chiparus bronze Kneeling Dancer, the figure wearing a hooded cat suitand standing n a brown marble base. It dates from the 1920s and is worth £12,000-15,000

This Chiparus dancing girl has an outfit cold-painted in gold and silver stands on brown mottled marble base and is worth £8,000-10,000

Almeria, a Chiparus dancing girls worth £10,000-12,000

preiss carbaret girlpreiss golfer etcchiparus miss kita
chiparus kneeling dancerchiparus dancing girlchiparus almeria

Tags: Art Deco · Chiparus · Priess

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Diana Keating // Apr 9, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Dear Christopher,
    I would love a sculpure of an Art Deco dancing girl in bronze & ivory in the style of Chiparus or Preiss,or Lorenzo but could never afford one! Do you know of any dealers /shops that supply GOOD reproductions that don’t look like they have plastic faces & limbs? I would never buy one from the internet because you need to see the quality & you can’t tell from pictures.
    I live in Kent but don’t mind travelling.
    Hope you can help.

    Kind Regards,

    Diana

  • 2 Christopher Proudlove // Apr 9, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Diana
    Sadly, all reproduction figures look like reproductions, particularly when you’ve seen the real thing. This is particularly noticeable in the hands and faces, but also the quality of painting. I have two suggestions: consider the cheaper but no less appealing Goldscheider ceramic figures, or else jump on the Eurostar at Ashford and browse the fleamarkets in Paris, Brussels or Lille. Make a weekend of it!

  • 3 Diana Keating // Apr 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Thanks for getting back to me so quickly Christopher. I will take your advice about Eurostar because we only live down the road from the station & we could do with a weekend away soon.Will also look at Goldscheider.

    Regards

    Diana

  • 4 b williamson // May 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    i have a bronze signed ( on her leg) she is semi-nude holding a whip
    can you tell me if it’s worth anything

  • 5 David // Oct 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Greetings from Arizona. I have been trying for several weeks now to find a similar Chiparus sculpture of one I purchased. I think it is a reproduction, but there is not one similar example on line. It is the image of Isadora Duncan. There is only one repro on line. That one, no matter where it is for sale, is an inch shorter and an inch less in width. The colors are totally different too.
    Mine is bronze with some cold painted color
    in a dark red at the base and the scarf over her head. Worthpoint had an eBay sale in 2006, but no photo, but the correct dimensions. That could be the item in my possession, since the estate that it came from was loaded with Chiparus works. Possibly some real and some not. Certain ones were not for sale. Any help or ideas are appreciated, and I can send you photos if there is any interest by you to see it. Kind regards, David Fox
    Phoenix

  • 6 Christopher Proudlove // Oct 8, 2012 at 7:58 am

    David, send me some pictures and I’l;l see what I can come up with. Chris

  • 7 bev // Jul 24, 2017 at 12:40 am

    i have a bronze of a sitting legs crossed woman, seems asian or something, with hands raised and crossed behind her head. She has a headress (which is the same green a upper body) and some of the costume (top half) is a green colour. The rest is all broze there is no ivory or plastic. She sits on a greenish marble base. At the bottom right side of her “but” area …. the word CHAPARUS … is printed all capital letters, nothing else
    The statue sits approx 1 foot high (i didn’t measure so this is approx)
    i’ve been trying to find out exactly what it is …. a reproduction? or ???? there are a few chaparus internet sites, but i can’t find anything on this …. any idea?

  • 8 Christopher Proudlove // Jul 24, 2017 at 8:16 am

    See your email.

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