Friday, 27 May 2016

Priceless Preiss

I've always regarded Demetre Chiparus and Ferdinand Preiss (1882-1943) as the leading artists of the Art Deco statuette genre. They both specialised in producing exquisite figures made from cast bronze and carved ivory for faces and limbs not covered by the clothing. Though both artists created similar statuettes their styles were different, Chiparus provided plenty of detail on the clothing of his dancing ladies while Preiss was more concerned with movement and energy and his work had very precise ivory carvings of faces and hands. Page eight has twelve close-ups of faces showing how much detail is possible with ivory.

Alberto Shayo's illustrated essay in the book's first seventy pages covers the life of Preiss, his training as an ivory carver and successful partnership with Arthur Kassler, their company signed works with a P and K in a circle. Preiss worked in Berlin surrounded by the creative atmosphere of the city during the twenties. Shayo considers a 1914 statue called 'Youth' as the start of the Preiss style, a slender nude athletic female with up-stretched arms. It remained a popular line from the P&K studio and continued to be produced throughout the twenties. The book has several photos of nude statues in classical Greek poses and also many examples of clothed females in outdoor pursuits like skating, tennis, swimming, golf.

It probably wasn't Preiss' intention that these reflected the importance the Nazi Party attributed to physical culture, youth and beauty. To remain in business in the thirties Preiss had to join the Reichkulturkammer though he was never a party member. As the decade ended bronze became scarce, exports to Britain were forbidden (the most important market for P&K's work) with the last bronze and ivory statue made in 1940, though work continued only using ivory. In 1943 Preiss died in Berlin from a brain tumour, he was sixty-one.

I think this can be regarded as the best book about the beautiful work of Ferninand Preiss, there are over a hundred whole page photos and according to the dimensions in the captions many are life size. Alberto Shayo has written a similar book about Chiparus, also published by the ACC.

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