19th Century European Bronzes Judged by Signatures and Foundry Marks

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, June, 2005


Bronze statue signed Carrier-Belleuse. Titled "Printemps" (Spring) Courtesy of Garth's Arts and Antiques, Delaware, OH.

Ever wonder why some bronze figures are priced in the thousands and others in the low hundreds ? Much depends not only on the quality of the work but the name of the sculptor and often the foundry mark. Yet, many of the best known sculptors such as P.J. Mene and A.L. Barye who had their own foundries used no mark. Others , such as Carrier-Belleuse signed their works and used foundry marks. Often, even slight damage, can lower a price. This was the case when a bronze statue by Carrier-Belleuse (French- 1824-1887) came to auction. With minor damage to the base and post it sold for $9,487.50. The high estimate was $12,000.

There’s a lot beginning collectors need to know before paying big money. Check the various price guides, such as Miller’s International Antiques Professional Hand Guide and auction house catalogs. Another source, on the internet, is Art Facts.

These sources will give you an idea of what is coming to market and the prices. Familiarize yourself with names of sculptors, their signatures and the foundry that made them.  

There are a variety of patinas and techniques you should learn to recognize. Among the patinas; velvet black; “embugadon” (a reddish-brown); medallion black that has glints of brown. There are gilt bronze, silvered bronze and many other shadings.

Many materials that were combined with bronze from the turn-of-the-century, through the Art Deco eras, included chryselphantine and ivory. The use of ivory began around 1894, when the Belgians conquered the Congo and began shipping ivory tusks to Europe in great quantities. When the bronzes were overlaid with gold and ivory the descriptive word was “chryselphantine”. In Austria, bronze figures, primarily of Arabs and harem girls, used another technique called “cold-painting”. The use of colors over the bronzes.

CLUES: The first thing you have to know is if the piece is really bronze. If the ivory is really ivory, and the signature (if signed) is authentic. The popularity of these relatively inexpensive bronzes at the time resulted in copies being made of spelter (white metal with a silver look). It was given a bronzed finish. Look for a scratch made by others that will reveal the gold tint of bronze under the finish (patination). If you are buying at an estate sale or any other source that can’t offer written proof, ask the seller to make a tiny scratch for you. The white metal will of course show up silver.

Many pieces mounted on bases may actually be spelton on bronze bases.

Signed pieces don’t guarantee anything. If the piece bears as famous name, it may be “after Mene, etc.” This means it was done after the original casting and should show a foundry name or mark. Or, that it was copied from another work of art. This doesn’t detract from the value. Another clue is the sharpness of the sculpture done by a famous artist. Fake casting will not have the sharpness of detail. They will also have a reduction in size from the originals.

Small bronzes are often not signed. They can be attributed to important artists if they are a miniature of the artists larger, important work.

Small bird, animals and figures are in the $150 and up range. They offer a good way to begin a collection and study patination. There is nothing like hands-on experience to get acquainted with the sharpness of detail versus the soft touch of reproductions.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at antshoppe@aol.com

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