30 August 2013

The Art of Cold Painted Vienna Bronze

Cold painted Vienna bronzes have been on our radar for some time now. This special type of bronze is made using a cold-working technique to create highly desirable pieces. Mariad from Mariad Antiques (Stand 359) is the only dealer in Grays to specialise in Austrian bronzes and we are glad to have her expertise in house.

Cold painted Vienna bronzes were designed directly by the artists who would shape the casting moulds for further reproduction. A single bronze figure was often cast in separate sections using a method known as sand casting and then welded together and handed over to the painters. This labour intensive process required highly skilled craftsmanship. Cold-painting relates to the surface finish, a key element in this type of bronze, and it can involve several processes which take place after the casting is complete. Work on the surface of cast bronzes gives texture and sharpens surface details. Several layers of heavy lead based paint are then applied to the bronze. The standard of painting is of great importance and determines the quality of the final piece.

Vienna bronzes were created in the 19th century in the epoch of the Biedermeier where the self-confident bourgeois developed a new culture of living and social life. Around 50 manufacturers resided in Vienna at the turn of the century. Very soon Vienna Bronzes were considered as show-pieces held in high regard as luxury items and very collectable. They were finely detailed miniatures and table top figures depicting life-like natural subjects, often in cartoonish, satirical, or whimsical situations. The range of characters included pets and forest animals, Oriental subjects, Black Americana, expedition and travel inspired subjects as well as erotic figures. Vienna bronzes vary in size from tiny 1 inch miniatures to as large as a table lamp or a centrepiece.

Bergman was the most well known maker at the time. Franz Bergman who took over from his father was the overseer of the Vienna bronze boom at the turn of the 20th century. It is a curious thing to mention that his popular erotic pieces were marked Nam Grem which reads Bergman in reverse to mark his less conventional pieces.

Carl Kauba was another well know maker whose work is usually associated with bronze figures depicting Native American Indians and cowboys. His work is truly astounding, showing great attention to detail and sheer movement in each piece.

Sadly many Vienna bronzes have not been marked or signed. Several sculptors and models would sell their work to bronze manufacturers, who then reproduced these. This means that a stamp (hallmark) alone shows who the manufacturer was, but not the creator.  For this reason, the artists remained largely unknown. 

Vienna bronzes are still in production today via the Bermann manufactures who took possession of the Bergman name and logo, as well as older designs and casts. Some experts believe that the more recent pieces are lacking in character. This could be due to the fact that the modern manufacturing process compromises on labour and time as well as the type of paint used. At the turn of the 20th century the lead based paints were no longer permitted due to health risks involved. This is a pretty clear way to date a piece since the earlier bronzes were decorated with the lead based paint which gave the finished piece the dept and rich texture.

Whether you are a seasoned antique dealer or a newbie, we hope that these little lovingly created bronze figures will capture your imagination with their fine detail and broad variety of subjects. Here are our favourite pieces:

Bronze red squirrel holding a nut. 6 inches long & 5 inches high.
Circa 1910. Offered by Mariad Antiques

Collection of bronze mallard ducks. Circa 1890-1900. 
Offered by Mariad Antiques.

Collection of bronze cats. All comical. Sizes from miniature to 5 inches . 
Circa 1910-1920. Offered by Mariad Antiques.

Two bronze mice on a vine leaf accompanied by two flies. 
Circa 1900. Offered by Mariad Antiques.

Gold painted rare Vienna bronze otter with a fish in its mouth. 
Circa 1890-1900. Offered by Mariad Antiques.

Large bronze jay bird signed by Bermann. 12 inches long & 10 inches high. 
Circa 1890. Offered by Mariad Antiques.

For more information visit Grays at: www.graysantiques.com

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