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
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