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]

Decopix

Decopix

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]

Modernism

Modernism

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    

Superb 1920s French Art Deco Bronze Marble High-style Mantel Clock By MartiSet Of 4 Antique Art Deco Polychromed Bronze Electric Wall Sconces Lamps LightsOutstanding 1920s French Art Deco Pierrot Bronze Sculpture By H. GarnierArt Deco Philippe "le Reveil" (the Awakening) Gold Wash Spelter Statue Nude GirlArt Deco Marble Book Ends Marble & Bronzed Spelter. Love Birds/parakeets. LovelyRare 1930s French Art Deco Bronze Sculptures African Couple, Hagenauer EraEstate Lot Art Nouveau Deco Nude Maiden Bronze Figures Seal Paperweight Plaque (5) Cast Brass/bronze Finials For Art Deco/art Nouveau Slip Shade Fixtures X137Sublime Art Deco Figural Parrot Bronze Clad Armor Bronze Bookends C.1920 Art Deco Huge Bronze Nude Man 1900 Sculpture,signed,original & Rare RareOld Antique Austrian German Bronze 3 Hares Pot Pouri Bowl Art Deco 1930s RabbitTopless Nude Female Bronzed Art Figurine Miniature Deco Lady Risque Busty StatueArt Deco German Eagle Car Mascot, White Metal, On A Bronze Base. Wings RaisedAntique Art Deco Era Bronzed Figural Abraham Lincoln Top Hat Abe Bench BookendsAntique Bronze Erotic Nude Submissive Woman Figure Vintage Statue Deco SculptureExquisite Art Deco M. Le Verrier BookendTiffany Studios New York 1183 Indian Pattern Inkwell Art Deco Nouveay BronzeAntique C1920 Art Deco Vienna Bronze Cold Painted Pussy Cat & Kitten Pin TrayArt Deco Bronze Hanging 3 Light Fixture Antique Art Deco Nouveau Metal Lamp Base Branch Leaf Design Handel Bronze ? Art Deco, Chiparus " Illusion Of Virtue ", Bronze Statue Figure FigurineVintage Art Deco Style Bronzed Female Nude Figure Form Sculpture Of Fine DesignOriginal Art Deco Solid Brass Bronze Elephant, With A Modernist Design Quality Art Deco, Bronze Statue Mccartan "diana With Hound" Bronze Figure FigurineVintage Art Deco New Haven Bronze/brass Or Copper Statue ClockArt Deco, Bronze, "michelle" Signed Bronze Statue Figure Figurine StatuetteArt Deco, Bronze Statue, "dancer Of Palmyra" Signed D.h.chiparus Figure FigurineCarl Sorensen Original Signed Art Deco Bronze And Green Vase VerdigrisVintage Art Deco Austria Bronze Richard Rohac Hagenauer Cards Poker AshtraysAn Exceptional Statue Art Deco Bronze Sculpture By Pierre Lefaguays Tiffany Studios New York 1184 Indian Pattern Stamp Box Art Deco Nouveau BronzeLot Antique Vtg Bronze Art Deco Doorknobs Door Knobs W/ RosettesCastle Creek Victorian Table Lamp Tiffany Style Glass Light Art Deco Bronzed NewAntique Victorian Bronze Jewelry Trinket Glass Beveled Box Art Deco 19thc.Flirtatious, Art Deco, " Crimean Dancer ", Signed, Bronze Statue Figurine FigureVintage Art'deco Winged Woman Hood Ornament Car Mascot Bronze Art Deco, Bronze Statue "balancing" Signed, Sculpture Bronze Figure FigurineVintage Brass Frame Art Deco Lady Face Flowers Bronze MirrorVintage Art Deco Bronze Brass W Bosse Style Dachshund Dog Ring Holder?Superb Art Deco, Bronze, "awakening" Signed D.h.chiparus Statue Figure SculptureFantastic Large 1930s Art Deco Bronze Wall Cross Crucifix 18 Inches Vintage Ornate Bronze Deco 2 Arm Pan Chandelier Ceiling Fixture Arrow SocketsCanada Art Deco Bronze Jacques Cartier Medal By Lenoir 1935 Montreal Art ExpoVintage Art Deco Bronze Tone Pearl Beaded Large Hair Clip Grip Barrette SlideStunning Deco Signed Milo Dancer Pure Genuine Hotcast Bronze StatueLarge Bronze Boxed Art- Deco Medal By Witterwulghe, Nude Man, L'effortArt Deco 1920's Dancing Nude Lady Bronze Statue By Paul Herzel - Frankart EraVery Art Deco & Large Bronze Medal By Patriarche, Ca 1933: The Human ComedyArt Deco Hot Cast Skeleton With Nude Girl Ashtray Coin Key Holder Bronze StatueAntique Art Deco Madonna & Child Gilded Bronze Figure Oak Plaque Religious IconPair Antique French Art Deco Candlesticks Bronze With Serpentine Marble Bases.Excellent Vintage High Class Art Deco Wall Crucifix, Brass/bronze, CollectibleArt Deco Bronze "summer", Signed, Preiss Bronze Statue Girl Figurine Figure Huge Nude Art Deco Bronze Statue Genuine HotcastUnique Art Deco, Signed Colinet " Hindu Dancer ", Bronze Statue Sculpture FigureAntique Chinese Art Deco Style Kneeling Deer Bronze SculptureNude Woman Bookends Verona Pat Pend Art Deco Cast Iron Bronze Finish Signed Nude Bondage Lady Bronze Sculpture Statue Figure Erotic Art Nouveau DecoLovely Art Deco Nouveau Signed Pure Hotcast Bronze Statue Figure Art Deco, Bronze, "charlotte" Signed Bronze Statue Figure Figurine Statuette