Franz Xavier Bergman, 1861 – 1936, is the most famous of the Viennese ‘cold painted bronze’ artists. Recognised for his great attention to detail and use of wonderfully vibrant colours, works from Bergman’s foundry are highly prized today by collectors worldwide.
Franz Bergman senior was born in Gablonz, Northern Bohemia, where he worked as a metalwork chaser and finisher. In 1860 he came to Vienna and founded a small bronze factory. At the turn of the Century his son, Franz Xavier Bergman, inherited the company and opened a new foundry, basing many of his early bronzes on designs from his father’s workshop.
The Franz Xavier Bergman foundry produced an eclectic mix of Oriental, erotic and animal figure bronzes.
Bergman used a cold painted technique, whereby cast bronzes were decorated in several layers of polychrome ‘dust paint.’ These layers were not fired to fix them to the bronzes, hence they are ‘cold painted.’ Sadly the knowledge of this technique, particularly of how to mix the paint, has since been lost.
Bergman’s animal figures are often humanised or whimsical, humorous objects d’art, which adds to their popularity. Often, carefully sculpted animals such as bears could be opened to reveal an erotic figure inside.
He has also created many sensuous poses of young women in the Art Nouveau style. The women are disguised by a covering, but they reveal all when a button is pushed or a lever moved.
How to Spot a Bergman
Bronzes cast in the Bergman foundry are normally stamped with a capital ‘B’ that is placed in a twin handled vase. They are also often inscribed ‘Geschutzt’ which refers to the model/design being ‘registered’ or copyrighted.
As an artist Bergman himself also had a distinctive signature; ‘Nam Greb’ which reads Bergman in reverse. It is said that he used this mark as a ‘nom de plume’ when the subjects of his work were subtly erotic and not to the taste of his more conservative clients or family.
As with all antiques, value is affected by condition. Be aware that the cold painted decoration of Bergman pieces is relatively easy to damage, and any worn enamel will reduce value considerably.
Bergman bronzes in good condition can fetch thousands, so it is well worth keeping your eyes peeled for them. There are however plenty of fakes about, particularly on eBay, so we would advise against purchasing Bergman pieces from anyone but a reputable dealer.
Where to find them
We have an extensive collection of Bergman pieces in our Portobello gallery, which you may also view on this website.