Beatrix Potter Figurines, “Vienna Bronzes”?

item6935392_allfigurines

The whole family! in process item no. 6935392

Cotsen recently acquired a large collection of 62 bronze Beatrix Potter figurines. The figures are hand painted and range in size from 1.5 to 7 centimeters in three general size categories (8 large, 32 medium, and 22 small). From Benjamin Bunny to Tom Kitten, these bronzes boast an array of familiar and beloved Beatrix Potter characters.

item6935392_larges

The “large” figurines; the tallest of which only measures 7 centimeters high.

item6935392_mediums

the middle sized group, each around 3 to 5 centimeters high.

item6935392_smalls

the very small figurines, all around 2 centimeters high.

The whole group again, with a quarter for scale.

The whole group again, with a quarter for scale.

Bronze figurines, Potter-related and otherwise, are often found on Ebay and in auction catalogs, in gift shops and collectibles magazines. In all these various places these collectibles are almost ubiquitously referred to as “Vienna bronzes”, usually “cold painted”: an Art Deco technique in which the metal is first chemically treated then painted and then covered in a fixative. Many larger bronzes are stamped with a maker’s signature. The most familiar in the market is the cartouche of the Viennese manufacturer Franz Bergmann which often appears, unpalindromatically, as NAMGREB (with the last N dropped). But our Potter figurines, and other bronzes of similar size, are too small to bear any maker’s mark. Although these tiny figurines claim a Viennese origin, grasping at associations with those larger and verifiable pieces and with that Austrian city of art and culture, their place of manufacture is not actually noted on the objects themselves.

So while doing research for this blog post I discovered a very strange thing: namely, that the manufacturer and date of these adored collectibles is almost impossible to ascertain!

As has already been mentioned, whenever these objects appear for sale on the web or in trade catalogs, they usually don’t mention a manufacturer. Even in one very famous collection of “Vienna Bronze” Potter figurines, that of Doris Frohnsdorff (featured in the April 16th, 1997 Christie’s auction catalog of her sizable and one-of-a-kind Beatrix Potter collection), the manufacturer is not mentioned. This collection, now in the possession of the rare book dealer David Brass, was reviewed by Greta Schuster, a knowledgeable Potter collector. Of the Frohnsdorff collection (and Vienna Bronzes in general) she said “The Vienna Bronzes are a minefield, from what I can see in your pictures you have a very good selection of old ones (with whiskers), approx. 1913 – 1933… What you have to look out for are ones that were made yesterday and made to look worn and old; yes there are fake Vienna Bronzes.”

To the best of our knowledge and ability we can cautiously conclude that our collection is authentic. Our miniatures are probably contemporaneous with the Frohnsdorff collection, resembling similar quality and condition (our whiskers are intact too!). Although we can claim that our bronzes were probably made in the period between wars, we still don’t know by whom. From what I’ve been able to uncover, this isn’t an problem particular to bronzes. All kinds of collectibles (lead soldiers, pewter figures, porcelain dolls, crystal statuettes, etc.) are listed online, in hobby magazines, and trade catalogs without ever indicating a manufacturer.

Nevertheless, it seems that there are only two companies which could be responsible for the creation of authentic Vienna Bronze Beatrix Potter figurines in the early 20th Century: Franz Bergmann (sold to Karl Fuhrmann & Co. in 1960) and Fritz Bermann; firms with misleadingly similar names that were both started in or around Vienna ca. 1850. On the history page of Bermann’s website, the firm indicates that they fixed a licensing agreement with Warne (the late Potter’s publisher) to produce figurines from Potter’s stories only very recently, in 1984. So we might ostensibly count them out and conclude that only Bergmann could have made our little figurines. Yet both firms have been advertised as the manufacturer of antique Beatrix Potter pieces (though they are, of course, easy to mix up).

It still remains unclear, however, if Potter authorized any Vienna Bronzes during her lifetime. So it is always possible that these miniatures were made by different firms than the ones mentioned but are simply untraceable. We might never get a clear answer regarding the origin of Potter bronzes from this period or our Potter bronzes in particular. If we can conclude that our figurines are not piracies (if indeed they all even came from the same place), then they were most likely made by Bergmann. But given the muddled past and current market, it might be impossible to say for sure.  At the very least, we are pleased to have received a charming collection of Vienna Bronze Beatrix Potter figurines that were carefully cast, painstakingly painted, and lovingly cared for.

 


Additional links and sources:

The David Brass collection

The history of Bermann Weiner Bronzen

 

Grimm, an artist’s book and more

 

cases3

Cotsen unprocessed items 6903748 & 6903746 respectively

Above are two recently purchased acquisitions. The larger object, featured here with its brown cloth silk-screened slip case, stamped title piece, and twine ties, is the artist’s book Grimm, created by Mikhail Magaril and Victor Bogorad (New York: Summer Garden Editions, 2012). The work consists of twelve pasted together 23 x 14.5 inch folio leaves (in this way each full page spread is in fact one large single sheet). Nine of these are solely devoted to a different Grimm tale or theme. Every page is Illustrated throughout by Magaril’s iconic ink blots, printed in letterpress, and silk screened in both black and brown; the work is truly unique (it is actually the first of only ten copies).

We are fortunate to have this very haunting, and very Russian, interpretation of the Grimm fairy tales and their more nefarious aspects. As the artists explain in the book’s afterword, this work is a reflection upon the artists’ childhood experiences of the Grimm world, which they read, and the real world in the USSR, which they lived: “Life there [the USSR] had much in common with the world of Grimm fairy tales. . . The nightmarish regime badly affected the psyche of children and caused the impressionable young minds to see something sinister in every ink blot” (folio page 11). As you can see for yourself, the book is a truly harrowing and fantastical homage to the Brothers Grimm.

cover

Cover

Endpapers

Endpapers

Title page, spread 1

Title page, spread 1

Spread 2

Spread 2

Der Kleine Däumling (The Little Thumbling), spread 3

Der Kleine Däumling (The Little Thumbling), spread 3

The Brother's Grimm have been included interacting with the fairy tales themselves throughout the work.

The Brother’s Grimm have been included interacting with the fairy tales themselves throughout the work.

Silkscreened image and text of Frau Trude (Mother Trude) notice the brothers again, spread 4

Silkscreened image and text of Frau Trude (Mother Trude) notice the brothers again, spread 4

Spread 5

Spread 5

Spread 8

Spread 8

Hansel und Gretel, spread 10

Hansel und Gretel, spread 10

 

Close up juxtaposition of the two sets of siblings found above.

Close up juxtaposition of the two sets of siblings found above.

Jovial portraits of the artists, Bogorad and Magaril respectively, spread 11

Jovial portraits of the artists, Bogorad and Magaril respectively, spread 11

Authors' signatures and copy number, spread 12

Authors’ signatures and copy number, spread 12

The small black cloth box with linen ties (you thought I forgot didn’t you?) is a related treasure to the already prized first item. The title and key to the contents is supplied by the henna inked calligraphic top card:

Sketches for the book Grimm by Mikhail Magaril

Sketches for the book Grimm by Mikhail Magaril

Once opened, one is greeted by a grand total of 87 (15 x 10.5 cm) unnumbered deckle edged cards. Though 27 cards are blank, the remaining 60 cards include a vast array of draft illustrations for Grimm by Magaril.  The illustrations, executed exclusively in blue and black ink, have been cut out and pasted onto the decorative cards.  Below is a small sampling, notice that some of the proofs were not featured in the final product:

Examples, two of which feature two cards bound together.

Examples, two of which feature two cards bound together.

This large collection of small cards grants us unique access into the creation of the book Grimm. By viewing these proofs, we are offered a little window with which to view the draft processes and production choices of a very talented contemporary artist: Mikhail Magaril.

Not quite the final illustration

Not quite the final illustration

For more work by Magaril held at Princeton, check out this blog post by our colleague Julie Mellby, the curator of Graphic Arts: Mikhail Magaril