Franz Xaver Bergmann

Austrian · Bronze · Antique

One area of collecting that has been fascinating enthusiasts all over the world are antique Austrian cold painted bronzes, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among these, pieces produced at the Franz Xaver Bergmann foundry have assumed a prominent role, undoubtedly because of their production quality, showing a solid and extremely detailed cast, a wide range of talented, exotic and provocative designs, and superb painting craftsmanship. The foundry was established by Franz Xaver Bergmann in Vienna, at the turn of the century, c.1899-1900, following an inheritance of his father’s bronze factory, who had been in business since 1860. Although many less informed readers tend to think that Franz Bergmann is the name of the artist behind the cold painted bronzes, mainly because they never carry a name other than Bergmann’s, the truth is that he was only the owner of the foundry. Every bronze made at the Bergmann factory was designed by an artist, and was made following his or her model; furthermore, most of these sculptors were employed by the workshop on the basis of anonymity, and this is why we rarely come to have knowledge of the name behind the work; still there were a few famous sculptors who used the Bergmann foundry to produce signed works, such as Bruno Zach, however this type of pieces usually fall in a different collecting field. In the Franz Xaver Bergmann foundry, the labour production line was organized in a peculiar and effective way: there were the artists, who designed the models, there were the chasers, who crafted the bronze, and then there were the painters, who, in this case, were almost always women working at home, following precise instructions to employ the so called “dust” technique, which involved several layers of paint, while following a recipe to mix the paints, in order to apply them directly onto the fired bronze without further firing after painting – thence the designation of “cold-painted”. The recipe for this technique has since been lost; making the type of painting we can find on a genuine Franz Bergmann bronze actually unrepeatable, despite similar techniques still in production today. The factory became famous for producing figures and groups in the Art Nouveau and Orientalist styles, and also for producing a range of erotic works. Human and animal subjects coexist, many with humorous or whimsical messages, others with incorporated simple mechanisms to change appearance, or to reveal unexpected hidden details, such as nude women, in the case of erotic works. Pieces were marked with the foundry’s seal, which is a “B” inside the silhouette of a handled vase, or with “Bergman”, or with “NamGreb”, which is Bergman written backwards – the latter used to mark the erotic range of works, because the company had quite a lot of clients for the regular range, and didn’t want to be exposed with the same name as that of the erotic line. Of capital importance to the collector is to be able to recognize a genuine Franz Bergmann, taking into account that most pieces from the foundry are today easily valued in the range of the thousands of dollars. In regard to authenticity, the collector should know that, today, the cost of producing a cast bronze model in China is extremely low; and the collector should also be aware that, for about a decade now, counterfeiters have been looking closely at prices fetched by genuine European bronze sculptures at auctions worldwide, which can be very, very high. This means the market has been gradually fed with bronze forgeries made in China in the 21st century, many with spurious signatures, of which, unfortunately, Bergmann pieces are no exception. To mention an example, there have been popping on the market cold-painted Bergman style bronzes signed “MamGreb”; in this case, the “M” instead of “N” gives it away, but one might not be so lucky and stumble into a more attentive fake. So, always carefully check the piece before buying, mainly the casting and painting quality, and the way it is put together with the base (when there is one), to see if the screws are not of a modern make

Sign up for design inspiration, artist profiles and our weekly overview of new editions...