Bronze bookends, ashtrays, and inkwells were plentiful during the Art Deco era, but bronze figures were the most popular objects made of the copper alloy. In fact, the American affection for figural bronzes began in the 1890s, growing out the Art Nouveau figurative tradition in which female figures appeared to be draped rather than clothed, their hair flowing as if blown by a stiff wind.

By the 1920s, artists such as Demetre Chiparus of Paris were creating small, figurative sculptures designed to grace a side table or mantel. Chiparus’s dancers wore cold-painted costumes suggesting the Ballet Russes. Like many of his contemporaries, Chiparus also paired cast bronze with carved ivory to create what are known as chryselephantine sculptures.

A good example of such a piece is Chiparus’s two-foot-tall rendition of the ancient Assyrian queen Semiramis, whose outstretched ivory arms support curtains of pleated polychromed bronze. Her face is also made of ivory, as is her exposed midriff. The rest of her outfit, what little there is of it, might cause Lady Gaga to blush.

Ferdinand (Fritz) Preiss of Berlin actually began his career as an ivory carver, but he became known for his almost action-figure-like female athletes such as archers and tennis players, who were usually perched on marble or onyx bases. Other Preiss subjects included women in cabarets, some spreading their costume bat wings, others cradling a delicate mandolin.

While Preiss worked in a style that strikes us as cartoony today, Marcel-Andre Bouraine and Pierre Le Faguays were truer to Art Deco. Bouraine’s mythical figures are similar to the Paul Manship sculptures in front of Rockefeller Center in New York City. Le Faguays, who often signed his pieces Fayral, was perhaps more influential than his contemporaries, but the artists he inspired, including Preiss and Chiparus, achieved more success in their careers.

In the United States, upscale shops in New York City such as Alfred Dunhill did a brisk business selling these and other imported bronzes. This prompted U.S. silver manufacturer Gorham to open an entire bronze division in Providence, Rhode Island, to capitalize on the trend. One of Gorham's most successful artists was Harriet Frishmuth, who was known for her small nude statuettes and table fountains.

While many of the best known sculptors from France and Austria were men, Gorham gave women an opportunity to design. In addition to Frishmuth, there was Maude Sherwood Jewett, Ma...

When looking at Art Deco bronzes, make sure it's clear whether the piece is in the Art Deco style or actually from the Art Deco era. Objects from the 1920s and ’30s often show evidence of wear, especially surfaced that have been cold-painted. If the paint looks too new, it probably is. Pieces that are excessively polished are also suspect—real vintage bronze will have a greenish patina.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Art Deco 1910-1939

Art Deco 1910-1939

This Victoria and Albert Museum has a terrific collection of Art Deco objects. On the VAM's website, you can learn … [read review or visit site]



Randy Juster's survey of Art Deco imagery and reference on all things Deco. Includes pages on murals, houses, gov… [read review or visit site]



This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Dancer Gymnast Pure Bronze Figure Statue Deco 5.2 KgDancer Of Kapurthala 100% Hotcast Pure Bronze Statue Deco Nouveau See My ItemsVery Beautifully Detailed Deco Dancer Pure Bronze Statue See My Other Items Art Deco, Bronze Statue Mccartan "diana With Hound" Bronze Figure FigurineVtg Art Deco Nouveau Nude Lady Woman Lamp Base Part Sculpture Statue BronzeFrench Art Deco Figural Cast Metal Gilt Bronze Cigarette Jewerly Box FrankartArt Deco Original 1930's Five Light Slip Shade Bronz/glass Chandelier WorkingAntique Art Deco Wise Owl Armor Bronze Co. John Ruhl Metal Clad Bookends 1920's1933 Norman Bel Geddes Art Deco Bronze 3" Medallion For Gm's 25th Anniversary, Huge Nude Art Deco Bronze Statue Genuine HotcastArt Deco Bronze " Diana The Huntress ", Bronze Statue Sculpture Diana Figurine Nocturne Heavy Bronze Cast Nude Figure Statue Deco 6kgPair Antique Art Deco Era Gilt Bronze Type Sparrow Bird Marble Book EndsStunning Antique Bronze Art Deco Nude Lady Statue Germany Dated 1934 Signed Sv Lindhart Danish Art Deco Bronze Figurine Bing & Grondahl NrArt Deco, Bronze Statue, Diana With Gazelle, Amazonian Figure SculptureBeautiful Tall Art Deco Style Dancing Figure On Base Bronze Effect Art Deco Original French Gilt Bronze Figure.Curvaceous, Art Deco, " Carrier Pigeon ", Signed, Bronze Statue Figurine FigureStunning Deco Nouveau Dancer Genuine Hotcast 100% Bronze StatueVintage Art Deco Bookends Nude Lady On Fish Bronze?Large Vintage French Art Deco Isadora Duncan Bronze Medallion By Henry DropsyPair Antique Bronze Mcclelland Barclay Art Deco Nouveau Tulip CandlesticksSuperb Art Deco, Bronze, "awakening" Signed D.h.chiparus Statue Figure SculptureVintage Original Reclaimed Pair Of Brass Bronze Art Deco Sun Beam Door HandleArt Deco, Bronze Statue, "starfish" Signed D.h.chiparus Figure Figurine Deco Fan Dancer Genuine Pure Hotcast Bronze Signed Aldo Vitaleh See My ItemsArt Deco Very Large Bronze Plaquette By R.cochet: Pro PatriaVintage Art Deco Style Bronze Collection Nude Woman Antheion 13" Table LampArt Deco, " Antinea ", Signed Chiparus Bronze Statue Figurine Figure SculptureAntique Vintage Art Deco Tulips Soild Bronze Book Ends From EstateArt Deco, Bronze, "charlotte" Signed Bronze Statue Figure Figurine StatuetteStunning Deco Nouveau Nude Genuine Bronze Statue Figure Figurine Vintage Antique Art Deco Erotic Ladies Legs Brass / Bronze Novelty NutcrackersMajestic French Art Deco, Signed Morante "hoop Dancer ", Bronze Statue Figure Art Deco, Bronze, "at The Bar" Signed D.h.chiparus Statue Figure FigurineAsian Chinese Old Bronze Handmade Carving Eagle Collect Statue Brush Pot DecoChina Old collectable Hand Bronze Statue Dog Cane Walking Stick Head Handle DecoGood Original Pair Of Art Deco Bronze BookendsVintage Abstract Sculpture Brass Bronze Mid Century Modern Art Deco Nouveau NudeArt Deco, Bronze Statue Figure Sculpture, "a Little Rouge" Signed D.h.chiparusAsian Chinese Old Bronze Handmade Carved Collect Sun Yat-sen Statue Ink Box DecoAntique Lion Sliding Telescopic Bookends Art Deco Bronze Brass Arts & Crafts France - 1920s Art Deco Bronze Medal Swimming Diving 50 Mm F Fraise Sculptor Vintage Art Deco Green Onyx Ornate Gilt Bronze Table Lamp Original Silk ShadeArt Deco, Bronze, "josephine" Signed Bronze Statue Figure Figurine StatuetteAsian Chinese Old Tibet Bronze Handmade Carving Buddha Collect Statue Home DecoAntique Art Deco Nude Silhouette Bronze Lamp Night Light Blue Opaque Glass Bronze Art Deco Medal By Fath - Canine Exposition - Dogs - Paris 1939Original 1930's Art Deco "dancing" Bronze Figurine / Illuminated Garden PagodaFree Shipping Oil Rubbed Bronze Towel Ring Wall Mounted Towel Rack Diamond DecoAsian Chinese Old Bronze Handmade Carving Girl Buddha Collect Statue Home DecoChinese Vintage Collectible Old Bronze Statue Casting Lucky Spittor Cabbage DecoAntique Art Deco Bronze Pharlap Racing Horse Figurine On Nickel Plated Ashtray!Antique Collectible Handmade Statue Dragon Chinese Bronze Art DecoFine Chinese Old Bronze Collection Handmade Carved Belle Statue Figure Home Deco