An endearing cold painted Austrian Bronze group of two chicks with excellent naturalstic colours and very fine detail, signed with the Bergman ‘B’ in an amphora vase mark
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Height: 9 cm
Foundry: Franz Bergman Foundry
Materials: Cold Painted Bronze
Book Ref: Antique Vienna Bronzes by Joseph Zobel
Animal Subjects and the Bergman Chicks
Animal figures and birds like the cockerel can, occasionally, be found for a few hundred pounds, though sculptures in pristine condition and larger figures can be worth several thousand pounds. Value is affected by condition. The cold painted decoration is relatively easy to damage and worn Enamel will reduce value considerably.
Look out for Bergman’s distinctive signature marks: a ‘B’ in a vase shape and ‘Nam Greb’. This latter, which reads ‘Bergman’ in reverse, was often used on his more erotic pieces, which were not to the taste of his more conservative clients or his family.
These include sensuous poses of young women in the Art Nouveau style, disguised by a covering that revealed all when a button was pushed or a lever moved. Carefully sculpted animals, such as bears, could often be opened to reveal an erotic female figure inside.
Bergman was noted for his detailed and colourful work. He signed with either a letter ‘B’ in an urn-shaped cartouche or ‘Nam Greb’ – ‘Bergman’ in reverse. These marks were used to disguise his identity on erotic works.
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Franz Bergman and his use of Cold Painting:
Franz Xavier Bergman (1861-1936) probably the most famous of the Viennese sculptors who specialized in cold-painted bronzes. But first, let’s be clear of the difference between, say, our Arab and a bronze from antiquity. The latter has a surface untouched by anything other than time. Over the centuries such pieces develop a patina caused by oxidation and are highly prized by connoisseur collectors who appreciate the effects produced by age (which is why cleaning them is such a specialized task). The Arab Warrior is decorated with several layers of special, heavy lead-based polychrome paints, applied after objects are removed from the mould. Pieces decorated with enamels would normally be kiln-fired to melt the paint and ensure it has fused to the surface of the object to be decorated. Cold-painted bronzes are not subjected to the enamelling process – they remain cold – relying on the standard of painting to dictate the quality of the finished item. The technique was popular around the turn of the century and thousand upon thousand of the little animals (such as birds, foxes and even insects) and other figures, some as small as a few inches in height, poured out of Viennese foundries. Bergman’s manufacture was one of the leading makers. It was founded by his father, also Franz (1838–1894) a professional metal chaser from Gablonz, in Austria, who came to Vienna in 1860. Franz Xavier inherited the business on his father’s retirement and opened a bigger, much more productive foundry there in 1900. By no means all the animal figures came from Bergman’s works, but many did and sadly, many are unmarked. Those that are marked carry a capital “B” in a vase-shaped design as with the Arms Dealer, the presence of which removes any doubt as to the provenance. Bergman was also a fan of the exotic, producing larger figures and groups. Some depict Arabs, perhaps selling colourfully painted carpets, riding a camel or sitting in tents at an oasis complete with palm tree and water. Others are based on models from Bergman senior’s days. More rare are those wired for electricity and fitted small light bulbs to be used as table or bedside lamps. Being bigger objects, such pieces are more likely to carry the factory mark. Prices often run into four figures. Bergman junior also had an eye for the erotic, fantasy pieces that today’s collectors covet most. Always featuring a naked or scantily clad young woman in sensuous pose, Edwardian bachelors no doubt delighted in showing them off to their friends. But they were subtle too. The Camel figure, a model of an owl, a bear or some other unassuming object was constructed cleverly with a hidden button or lever which, when activated, causes the model to open, revealing the saucy secrets hidden inside. Expect to pay handsomely for such novelties. They were no doubt pricey when they were new. Manufacturing them was also something of a risk for Bergman, but he covered his tracks by marking them with the trade name “Nam Greb” to avoid upsetting his more conservative customers, and, perhaps, making them sound even more exotic. The joy of cold-painted bronzes in general and those by Bergman in particular are the vibrant colours that remain so in the best examples like the Arms Warrior on Camel.
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