Art Deco Sculpture History

art deco sculpture

Image by Colin Rose

As we learned in our Art Deco furniture post, this time period was about streamlined luxury. Sculptures took that idea a step further, showcasing the trends and fashions of the period – exuding glamour and Jazz Age style. A favorite subject included the female figure in movement (usually dancing) or standing in exotic attire. Keep in mind that the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb made everyone’s imagination wander and designers were not immune to the splendor of the exotic. Let’s discover more about these stunning figures and how best to take care of the beauties in our collection.

Art Deco Sculpture History

In addition to the role Egypt played in the designer’s mind, other foreign forces impacted the nature of art deco sculpture history. For centuries sculptors had favored two materials in their creations: bronze (to depict clothing) and ivory (for the subject). This combination is known as chryselephantine. In the 1920s and 30s ivory was readily available from the Belgian Congo and due to its low cost, the ancient ways saw a resurgence.

art deco sculpture

The moment Howard Carter opens the Tomb

This is not to say that the ivory and bronze palette was used exclusively – wooden sculptures were also popular, but we will focus on chryselephantine work in this particular post. The great artists of the day would expertly carve the ivory into lifelike facial features and make the bronze follow the fabric folds gracefully. These hard materials would flow like honey and were often accentuated with a lacquer. This painted technique allowed the designers to accent the garments and dancers with gems, geometric shapes, and shading.

As we mentioned earlier, the main theme that bonds together art deco sculpture is that the figures show a zest for life. That joy and enthusiasm paired perfectly with the Jazz Age ideals. Progress in the emancipation of women helped inspire our artists. Now women could dance freely in public and even wear makeup – they significantly impacted the artists’ hands as their new-found freedom let them fully embrace the amazing modern age.

image from the White House

Lady of Spring by Willard Stone, walnut sculpture

Female figures were shown in stunning poses – snapshots of movement. Artists blended the influences of the modern woman with the classical examples of nymphs or dancing sprites. Abstract geometry was also employed, mirroring the trends seen in furniture and architectural design. Demand for these stunning figures was high and reproductions soon responded to this growing market. These copies were smaller in stature and made in one material only – that could be bronze, ivory, or spelter. Spelter was the cheapest option; a combination of zinc, lead, and tin. This recipe did not yield a particularly beautiful product, so it was then painted to look like bronze.

During this time, the female figure was the most popular subject matter – but it wasn’t the only thing artists focused on. Animal sculptures were also very popular. These were highly stylized to capture the power and grace of the creatures. Big cats and deer were typical of this time, however horses, bears, and birds were also depicted. The animals were often shown in muscular poses or on the verge of movement. Leaping deer was a common theme. The bases for these sculptures would often pull influence from major artistic movements of the day like Cubism or Futurism.

Art Deco sculpture artists

We cannot write a post about this amazing time period without mentioning the heavy hitters in this realm. Perhaps the two greatest artists of the genre are Demêtre Chiparus and Ferdinand Preiss. Their craftsmanship is unparalleled and their work is known for its superb detailing. Each figure was individually designed and carved into limited editions. These editions were typically available in two or three sizes and would be available to the consumer in a variety of finishes.

Chiparus was born in Romania and worked in Paris. While his background is in religious statues, he found his calling in depicting stage performers in extraordinary dress. He is famous for showing grand movements and encrusting the bronze surface with jeweled decorations. He found the Russian ballet especially influential, as did many other artists of the day. Chiparus, like his peers, kept a watchful eye on the world’s affairs – cultural differences were celebrated.

Work by Chiparus

Image by Museocasalis

Preiss had sculpting in his very blood. Hailing from a part of Germany known for its ivory workshops, he set up shop in Berlin in the early 1900s. He focused on young children and daring women – these ladies were athletes, goddesses, or dancing starlets. He found inspiration in harlequins and costume balls. He is known for capturing movement exquisitely and elegant poses.

How to care for bronze sculpture

It is best to determine a care routine with an established and trusted shop owner. They can tell you how to expertly maintain your beautiful addition. But there are things you can do on your own to help prevent damage. Keep these valuable pieces away from moisture and do not try to remove any patina on the object. Give them a little dusting with a terry cloth towel on a regular basis to preserve its shine!

Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: “20th Century Design: The definitive illustrated sourcebook” by Judith Miller, Antiques Roadshow, Wikipedia, and the people who post their images without restriction.

For our readers: What’s your favorite motif from the Jazz Age? Do you think dance styles of today will ever inspire artists to such a large degree?

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