On bor­rowed time

With a ban on al­most all ivory sales ex­pected, this could be one of the last chances to get your hands on some iconic Art Deco delights

Grimsby Telegraph - - Antiques Fair -

AUCTIONEERS and own­ers of an­tique ivory are in a quandary. Leg­is­la­tion has been drafted in­tended to stamp out ivory poach­ing. When it is in­tro­duced, and at the time of writ­ing that date is un­cer­tain, sales of all ivory, with very few mu­seum qual­ity ex­cep­tions, will be il­le­gal.

In the mean­time, sale­rooms con­tinue to of­fer an­tique ivory works of art, of­ten with cau­tious es­ti­mates and re­serves. Some col­lec­tors are of­fload­ing as quickly as they can, while oth­ers are buy­ing when­ever the op­por­tu­nity oc­curs.

The con­cern in col­lect­ing cir­cles is that while every right-think­ing in­di­vid­ual ap­plauds any laws that pro­tect our ele­phants, any an­tique ob­ject con­tain­ing ivory, how­ever small, will be un­saleable, un­less it is re­placed with a man-made sub­sti­tute.

Whether or not this is be­hind the dis­per­sal of a large col­lec­tion of Art Deco bronze and ivory fig­ures later this month is not clear. Auctioneers Wright Mar­shall in Knutsford, Cheshire, were be­ing tight-lipped, even about the lo­ca­tion of the col­lec­tion.

Suf­fice to say, it took its pri­vate owner 25 years to cre­ate, buy­ing var­i­ously from auc­tions and deal­ers at an­tiques fairs around the re­gion. Guide prices are af­ford­able, mak­ing the sale seem like an op­por­tu­nity. The “Decades of De­sign” auc­tion is on Oc­to­ber 27 and bid­ding is avail­able on­line.

Two names spring to mind when these iconic, erotic and ath­letic sub­jects, so evoca­tive of the pe­riod, are men­tioned: 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. They and oth­ers are rep­re­sented in the sale. Ro­ma­nian-born 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 An­tonin Mercier and Jean Boucher.

His first ex­hi­bi­tion was at the Salon of the So­ciètè 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 made the fig­ures ap­pear more nat­u­ral, life­like and tac­tile, adding 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 Bak­stís stage de­signs and sub­se­quently the dis­cov­ery of Tu­tankhamen’s tomb in 1922, all of 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.

Jo­hann Philipp Fer­di­nand Preiss was born in Er­bach in Ger­many and clearly in­her­ited his mother’s skills: her fam­ily was en­gaged in ivorycarv­ing, the lo­cal cot­tage in­dus­try. 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. 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 World War One, the firm em­ployed six peo­ple, in­clud­ing a bronze caster but was forced to close on its out­break in 1914.

Preiss and Kassler re­opened the busi­ness in 1920, con­cen­trat­ing on pro­duc­ing a wide va­ri­ety of ex­quis­ite fig­ures de­signed by Preiss, mounted on plinths of onyx or mar­ble, which were pop­u­lar through­out Europe, par­tic­u­larly Bri­tain, and the US. In ad­di­tion to nude stud­ies, bathers, dancers, cou­ples, chil­dren and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, Preiss also pro­duced a series of Olympicin­spired 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 died with him. The com­pany’s work­shop and its stock of sam­ples were de­stroyed by fire in a bomb­ing raid on Berlin in 1945.

Josef Lorenzl (1892-1950) was an Aus­trian sculp­tor and ce­ram­i­cist who ex­celled at de­sign­ing Art

Deco fig­ures, no­tably for Friedrich Gold­schei­der (1845-1897) whose Vi­en­nese porce­lain fac­tory was of the most suc­cess­ful in Europe. Gold­schei­der also opened a bronze foundry in 1892. Lit­tle is known about Lorenzl’s early years, but his ce­ram­ics fig­ures of grace­ful dancers with long legs and closed eyes, many signed “Enzl” or “Lori”, made him one of the most sought-af­ter Deco artists. Rel­a­tively less well known are Lorenzl’s chry­se­le­phan­tine sculp­tures, less valu­able to­day than those by Chiparus and Priess but a strength of the Knutsford col­lec­tion. Ste­fan Dakon (1904-1992) an­other Aus­trian-born sculp­tor, is per­haps least well known. The two met while Dakon was an ap­pren­tice founder and Lorenzl per­suaded Gold­scheder to give his pro­tégé a job.

It was the start of a last­ing friend­ship, the two col­lab­o­rat­ing on many pieces, mis­lead­ing some art his­to­ri­ans to be­lieve that Dakon was Lorenzl’s pseu­do­nym. Spe­cial­is­ing in dancers and ac­tresses, Dakon pro­duced many el­e­gant fig­ures for the as­so­ci­a­tion of bronze founders Wiener Bronze (Vi­enna Bronze), as well as more than 10,000 oth­ers pro­duced over three gen­er­a­tions of the Gold­schei­der fam­ily and the Aus­trian ce­ram­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers Ker­amos.

If I had to choose one from the col­lec­tion, though, I’d pick the Pier­rette, made in about 1922 by French-Pol­ish sculp­tor Paul Philippe (1870-1930). Born in Thorn in Poland, he moved to France in about 1900 and stud­ied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris be­fore mov­ing to Berlin. He ap­pears to have con­cen­trated his out­put in bronze and chry­se­le­phan­tine sculp­tures and like his con­tem­po­raries, he de­picted ex­otic women in the­atri­cal poses. His best-known fig­ure is “Le Reveil” (The Awak­en­ing) done in 1925, which shows a naked young woman stretch­ing her arms above her head af­ter wak­ing from a deep sleep.

Deme­tre Chiparus: “Miro”, the par­cel-gilt and cold-painted bronze and carved ivory danc­ing fig­ure in Art Deco cos­tume stand­ing on a brown onyx base. Es­ti­mate £2,0003,000 Josef Lorenzl: “Skat­ing Girl”, the fig­ure pirou­et­ting on one leg. Es­ti­mate £600-800 Josef Lorenzl: A girl lean­ing for­ward slightly in geo­met­ric Deco dress, stand­ing on a turned onyx base. Es­ti­mate £400-600 Paul Philippe: My favourite (and ap­par­ently that of the auc­tion­eer) the Pier­rette wear­ing a beau­ti­fully de­tailed red painted dress, her head cocked and her hands in ap­par­ent sup­pli­ca­tion. Es­ti­mate £600-800

Ste­fan Dakon: An Art Deco danc­ing girl strik­ing a pose with one long leg raised above her waist. Es­ti­mate £300-500

Josef Lorenzl: A danc­ing girl in Art Deco cos­tume, stand­ing on a green onyx base. Es­ti­mate £400-600

Fer­di­nand Preiss: Pier­rette, the co­quet­tish fig­ure with painted red hat, stand­ing on a green onyx base. Es­ti­mate £400-600

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