Regarded as one of the leading ivory carvers of the 1920s and 1930s, the skill of Ferdinand Preiss in detailing and modelling in ivory was unsurpassed in the Art Deco era. Preiss is most well known for his stunning young ladies that perfectly capture the energy and seduction of the Art Deco Period, as well as his exquisite models of children.
Preiss’s personal life
Fritz Ferdinand Preiss was German and born on the 13th February 1882 in Erbach in the Odenwald. He was one of six children whose parents tragically both died, one shortly after the other, when he was 15 years old.
Friends and relatives stepped in to look after Ferdinand and his 5 siblings, with Fritz being apprenticed to Philipp Willmann, a well known ivory carver, where he was trained in the art.
He left Willmann’s workshop in 1901 and travelled to Milan, Rome and Paris, earning his living as a modeller.
In 1907 he married a Berliner, Margarethe Hilme, and soon afterwards his son Harry and his daughter Lucie were born.
Preiss & Kassler
Ferdinand first met Arthur Kassler in Baden-Baden. They soon became companions and founded the ivory carving business Preiss & Kassler, setting up a workshop in Berlin. Preiss and Kassler started out creating small ivory carvings, and then from 1910 onwards began producing carvings combining bronze with ivory. By the time the First World War broke out in 1914 there were 6 employees in the company, who were all outstanding ivory carvers from Erback.
Initially the pieces were cast in the Aktien-Gesellschaft Gladenbeck foundry in Berlin, and later in Preiss & Kassler’s own foundry. While Preiss designed practically all of the models, which were produced in limited editions. Much of the production was exported to England and the USA.
As soon as the tumult of the war was over, Preiss and Kassler built the business back up again, to see it reach its height during the 1920s. The pair formed a great partnership, with Preiss in the role of artistic director and Kassler looking after the commercial side of the business.
The company Preiss & Kassler existed until 1943 when Ferdinand Preiss died at the age of 61 from a brain tumour. In 1945, just before the end of the Second World War, the workshop with the stock of samples in Ritterstraße Berlin was completely burned down during a bomb attack.
Art by Preiss
The small ivory carvings P & K first specialised in were often statuettes of children with motifs orientated towards classical ideals. A little known and charming fact is they frequently made their carvings from old ivory billiard balls!
From 1910 they specialised in Art Deco cabinet sculptures that combined ivory with painted bronze. These were mounted on onyx or marble plinths and occasionally on lampstands or mantelpiece clocks.
Preiss is credited with revolutionising the production of chryselephantine statues by using a dental drill to carve the ivory in a more precise and efficient way.
Their most famous works depict modern, naturalistic 20th century women from the sports and theatrical world.
Value & Authenticity
Ivory carvings by Fritz are amongst the most valuable in the world. His works, along with those of Demetre H. Chiparus, are regarded as the pinnacle of Art Deco sculpture and are greatly valued by modern collectors.
Prices depend on the condition and complexity of the piece, typically ranging from £3,000 to £75,000.
As with all pieces of such value, you need to be cautious when purchasing to ensure they are not fakes. Look for the signature, typically on the base of the piece, and always buy from a trusted source.
You can view our range of Ferdinand Preiss pieces here. We would be delighted to tell you more about particular items that catch your eye either over the phone, at one of our regular antiques fairs or in person (by appointment) in our gallery on Portobello Road.