The first of which was a stunning silver cigarette case inset with an enamel of a beautiful woman in extravagant Art Nouveau or Jugenstil style. She wore an exotic lilac gown with her hair loosely swept up and bedecked with ribbons and roses. This exuberant piece is in the style of the Austrian artist Alphonse Mucha who lived in Paris in the late 1800’s and was most famous for theatre poster designs for the actress Sarah Bernhardt. Although not to everyone’s taste, I think it is easy to see why it is so appealing to the eye, especially as it offers a view into a world so very unrealistic and different to our own – if only I looked like this on a Saturday morning!
Sadly, the case had minor damage along one edge but since this type of enamel is very fragile it is actually extremely rare to find such items in perfect condition. Luckily the damage was not part of the decorative area and the piece was so collectable, buyers were happy to accept it as it was. Estimated at £200/£400 I was delighted when it sold to a Belgium buyer for £500.
My second favourite item had to be a cold painted spelter parrot whose head hinged backwards to reveal an inkwell inset into his neck. This also dates to around 1900 and comes from Austria where fine cold painted bronzes and spelter items were produced in large quantities and exported around the world. Spelter is in fact a ‘poor man’s’ substitute for bronze as it is made from cheaper metals and is softer to work at far lower temperatures
The reason that I loved this particular spelter parrot so much is the fantastic expression on his face. The Austrian sculptor Franz Bergmann was famous for creating very fine cold painted bronzes at the turn of the 19th century and his animal figures are often given anthropomorphic characteristics which greatly increases their appeal. The comically grumpy expression on this parrot’s face not only conjured up the personality of a parrot (often seen as a quirky and amusing bird), but it also reminded me of my mother! In order to check that I was not imagining this resemblance, I asked my daughter if the parrot reminded her of anyone – instantly she laughed and cried out ‘Grandma’. Although the parrot is only spelter, and the paint appears to have now worn off or been cleaned away, it has been cast with great skill and its appeal is still evident. The pre-sale estimate was £80/£120 but it sold online for £150. I hope the buyer enjoys seeing him sat on a desk or shelf somewhere – maybe it will also remind them of someone they know and love!