J.F. sent me a deco-style metal sculpture bust of a young male, presumably Apollo, if we can judge from the laurel leaf crown around his head, with no markings of attributions, except for a small paper label stating “#2017.”
My challenge is to figure out the artist without a signature and perhaps the year of creation. I have sent J.F.’s photos to the most significant gallery for this era of Austrian sculpture, the Galerie Hagenauer Wien, so we will see if I am right in thinking this is third-quarter 20th-century Austrian.
How an appraiser figures out a challenge like this is to know the period’s design.
I guessed at the artist as one of the Hagenaurer family, because I had the great fortune of visiting Vienna and studying Wiener Werkstatte architecture. There, I fell in love with the great architecture of Josef Hoffman (1870-1956), whose Werkstatte style influenced the great modernists of the 1920s.
In fact, architecture significantly and traditionally influences metalwork of all kinds, including sculpture and jewelry. And Werkstatte design was the door opener to modernism. We see it in architecture and metalwork first.
By the 1930s, Viennese style had taken under its wing French and Italian deco designs, and sculpting throughout continental Europe from this period has two distinct elements: Classicism and Exoticism.
For less “important” craft pieces in metal, artists tended to depict whimsical animals.
So let us explore the influential Hagenauer metalworkers of Vienna.
Karl Hagenaurer was a second-generation sculptor whose father Carl opened his Werkstatte in 1898. World War I bankrupted his workshop, and his son, Karl, returning from the war, took over the shop at age 20.
Perhaps because of his young age, Karl was open to and absorbed the shapes of Jugendstil and Art Deco, with their naturalistic flowing stylized lines and themes that tended to go toward elongation and surrealism.
No aesthete, Karl was not afraid of popular art. He created small affordable brass and wood figures of animals in purchase-able shapes of lamps, candlesticks, trays, bookends and hood ornaments.
An important animal of the era, the horse, (along with the stylized dog) was featured in many designs. It was small enough for any collector, in the less expensive material of brass with a polished nickel or bronze-plated finish, as well as in wood.
Karl’s younger brother Franz, failing as a writer, joined the firm, making drawings of busts from which he made wax models.
These models created the negative in a sand casting, and once the bronze cooled, it was chiseled, polished and mounted on a plain wood base. Because of the size and the classical figure of a beautiful young Apollo on J.F.’s sculpture, I believe this must be the design of Franz, but research tells us that these figures were copied because of their relatively small size and simplified lines.
The beauty of the piece is in its simplicity, and of course, the style. We don’t see much Deco design in California, but this piece reminds us of just how earth-shattering the Deco period was in art history.
Hagenauer had no retail store in 1930, and Karl exhibited the art at the phenomenon we might never see again on this newly infected planet: the World’s Fair.
He caught the attention of Rena Rosenthal, a high-end Manhattan shopkeeper, and John Wannamaker, the department store mogul of New York and Philadelphia.
Hagenauer exports were plentiful in the 1920s and 1930s, continuing onto into the 1950s with a more whimsical line of work. Karl and Fritz opened their own retail shop in Salzburg, for which Karl invented a special patination for brass.
In the 1950 and ’60s, their sculptures took on the abstracted lines of African sculpture, and in the 1970s, the shop reproduced some of Franz’ busts. So I am not sure if I should set a date of 1930 or 1970 to J.F.’s bust.
Karl’s son, also named Karl, opened his own shop in 2001 — in one of the former locations of the Hagenaurer Werkstatte, long after the firm disbanded — to collect and sell Hagenauer works. And Karl’s son, the founder’s grandson, expanded the inventory of works sold at the gallery to those by the great Austrian designers of the 1920s and through the most formative period of the Werkstatte movement.
I have written to them to ask the value of J.F.’s bust and who made it. If I am guessing right, it is by Fritz Hagenauer. One similar to J.F.’s sold at auction for $3,750 recently.
I have your email, J.F., and will report back!