Siegfried Bing’s Influence on Bronze Sculpture
We usually begin our European buying trips in Amsterdam. What a marvelous walking city, full of art, culture, good food, amazing museums, lovely people and surprises.
We never research what's happening before we go because our trips always involve either our design practice, antiques business or Color Marketing’s European meetings.
Our trip in the autumn of 2004 was especially memorable because the van Gogh Museum was presenting an amazing exhibit on Siegfried Bing and his Maison de l’Art Nouveau (House of New Art).
Bing was the sole founder and creator of the style we know as Art Nouveau. He was a Franco-German art dealer specializing in Japanese art who bounced from Berlin to Paris.
Around 1890 he had an epiphany: Art should be a way of life incorporating architecture, furniture, fine art, decorative art, jewelry, sculpture and lighting. He designed and built a new gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau, in Paris, for the specific purpose of showcasing his new philosophy and the works of artists and artisans who aspired to it.
The most recognizable adherent to Bing’s style in the United States was Louis Comfort Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany and Company. L.C. Tiffany embraced Bing’s new art by creating magnificent objects, the most recognizable examples being the stained glass lamps and windows that bear his name.
At the Amsterdam exhibit, what moved me the most was Bing’s influence on bronze sculpture. Here was fine art in which the working class was represented with dignity, beauty and respect.
There were bronzes of dock workers, miners, blacksmiths, construction workers and farm workers, including women. I was dumbfounded by the grace and presence of these figures.
In our travels and picking we have only seen three similar items for sale. One was in an antiques shop in SoHo, one was at the Baltimore Art and Antique Show, and the third one we actually found in Virginia Beach. We acquired all three; placed one in a client’s home and kept the other two.
Here's how we found the bronze blacksmith sculpture at the Baltimore Art and Antique Show:
As we were finishing up our review of the exhibits, I noticed a small bronze on a back shelf of a booth near the door. We entered the booth, smiled at the dealer and asked if we could examine the sculpture. It was signed "Gamboge" or "Jamboge" and not the quality of the sculpture in the Bing exhibit, but certainly a fine representation of the bronzes we had seen there, and probably dating to the late 19th century. On the base the artist had inscribed, "In Labor Virtus."
It was not priced, so we knew we probably couldn't afford it.
The dealer asked us if we knew anything about it. We shared with him our experience at the van Gogh Museum. He admitted that he had been dragging the bronze from show to show and we were the first people who had any interest in it, let alone an inkling about what it was.
I set it down and thanked him for allowing us to examine it. As we were exiting his booth he asked if we would like to purchase it. We smiled and shrugged and out of his mouth came a ridiculously reasonable price; he said he was tired of dragging it around.
I took it home, gently cleaned and waxed it, and now the art nouveau blacksmith sits on an etched glass table in our Vermont home. (I’ll share the story of the acquisition of the third sculpture in an upcoming blog post.)
Each trip brings surprises, inspiration and a new cultural experience. That is why we travel. Please feel free to share your experiences with me.