Monday, 21 February 2011

Art Deco Exoticism: The Bronze & Ivory Figurines of Demetre H. Chiparus

Demetre Haralamb Chiparus

Léotard Dancer ~ ca. 1928
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If there is indeed any truth in the old adage which states that imitation is the highest form of flattery then, without a doubt, the Roumanian-born Demetre H. Chiparus is one of the most flattered sculptors of the Art Deco period. And yet even today, aside from the most rudimentary facts, there is scant information about his life and his works are among the rarest and exceptionally valuable.

Le Favori de L'Odalisque

Javelin Thrower


Summer Friends ~ 1925
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Born in Dorhoi, Roumania, on September 16th, 1886, Demetre (occasionally spelled Dimitri) travelled to Italy where he attended the classes of the Italian sculptor, Raffaello Romanelli. In 1912, Chiparus moved to Paris where he attended Paris's École des Beaux-Arts under two French sculptors of renown: Anton Mercié (1854-1916) and Jean Boucher (1870-1939) to learn the traditional craft of bronze sculpting and casting. For the first time, in 1914, Chiparus exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français; thereafter, he rarely exhibited at the Salon except on two other, notable occasions: in 1923, when he exhibited his Javelin Thrower and in 1928, his Ta-Keo Dancer. His first sculptures leaned more towards the 'naturalistic' genre, producing models of small children and demure young ladies caught in 'minor accidents', such as unexpected gusts of wind; oftentimes, his subjects' features were gilded and enamelled. (Most of Chiparus's sculptures were primarily cast at the Edmond Etling & Cie Foundry; later on, however, he worked with the Les Neuveux de J. Lehmann Foundry, also situated in Paris.)  (Sources:, undated;, 2011)

The sculptural works of Chiparus  - which are mainly comprised of a combination of bronze and ivory - are often described as chryselephantine in trait; it is a process which Chiparus helped  to develop and with which  his name became synonymous. Greek in origin, the ancient art of chryselephantine specifically refers to statuary that is fashioned of ivory and plates of gold that are applied or overlaid to a wooden, stone or another core substance. The ivory plates were fastened to the surface of the statue and represented its flesh; gold was used to represent drapery or other ornaments. Prime examples of such works are the great cult statues of Zeus (at Olympia) and Athena (at the Parthenon) in ancient Greece - both of which have long since vanished. (Sources:, 2011;, undated)

Pierrot ~ ca. 1928

Leaving The Opera ~ ca. 1930

Drape Dancer ~ ca. 1930

The Squall ~ ca. 1930
The above four images are courtesy of:

Revue Dancer ~ ca. 1925
The above image is courtesy of:

Tender Promises
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Many of his figures, created at the height of his career during the Art Deco period, were directly inspired by the trends of the times; in particular, the exoticism of Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, which took Paris by storm from its first seasonal  début on May 19, 1909. (Many of his subjects were modeled after the dancers of the Russian as well as the French theatres, in elaborate costumes and striking poses. Indeed, a trace of Leon Bakst's undulating artwork  is just discernible  in many of Chiparus's more 'exotic' sculptures of the period.) Likewise and much as it surfaced in many of the artistic and commercial works of that era, after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in November of 1922, the aesthetic appeal of Egyptomania became quite apparent in some of his sculptural work as well. 

Equally integral to his artistic compositions are the highly stylized and decorative bases on which Chiparus's figures variously stand, lounge, rest or leap from: a striking assortment of onyxes and marbles (at times he combined a medley of  coloured stones to create his bases). (Sources:, undated;, 2011)

Dancer ~ 1925
The above image is courtesy of:

In the decades after his death on January 22nd, 1947, authenticated works by Chiparus came into high demand, commanding prices in the thousands and even, in some instances, in the hundreds of thousands due to their extreme rarity and desirability. (Chiparus created the same figures or models in different sizes: the larger the sculpture, the rarer and more valuable it is.) One such instance is an appraisal made by Mr. Eric Silver of the popular PBS program, Antiques Roadshow where Chiparus's sculptures have occasionally turned up in the past - though more often than not, most have been confirmed to be imitations. According to Mr. Silver, "...we see more Chiparuses on the Antiques Roadshow than any other sculpture... Most of the Chiparuses we see are fake." In the case of this appraisal, which took place in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 7th, 2010, however, an exceptionally large (and authenticated) gilt-bronze sculpture named The Clown's Dream - somewhat similar in style to the Pierrot shown above - was brought in for an appraisal. The Clown's Dream was estimated to be worth $100,000. (Source & quote:, 2011) 

A Clown's Dream ~ ca. 1930
(Antiques Roadshow)
Image courtesy of:

Uncannily, precisely eleven years prior to that, on August 7th, 1999, a large figure of Starfish (see an example below) was brought in to an earlier episode of the Antiques Roadshow. In that episode, appraiser David McCarron was quoted as saying, "His work is so popular that nine out of ten of these [sculptures] that we see are copies. But this one you can tell is original for a number of reasons: the fine quality of the casting, the detail work in the body and also the very, very detailed carving in the face. You can also see fine cracks in the ivory, which is a telltale sign of age." Appraised in Toronto, Canada, the Starfish was estimated, at that time, to be worth in the region of $100,000-$150,000.
(Source & quote:, 2011 ~ all monetary estimates from the Antiques Roadshow are in U.S. dollars) 

Starfish ~ 1925
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A Slight Accident

The Whisper

The Priestess ~ ca. 1925


Dancer of Kapurthala

Balancing Act ~ ca. 1925
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Antinea ~ 1925
Hindu Dancer ~ 1925

Ayouta ~ 1925

Egyptian Dancer ~ 1925

Exotic Dancer ~ 1925

Scarf Dancer ~ 1925

Invocation ~ 1920

Beggar Boy ~ 1925

Lazzerone ~ 1930
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Scarabee ~ ca. 1928

The Russian Dancer ~ 1928

Cossack Dancer


Russian Dancers ~ 1928
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Temple Goddess (sometimes known as Civa) ~ ca. 1928


Exotic Dancer


The Eternal Story

Dolly Sisters

Fan Dancer ~ ca. 1925
Detail of Fan Dancer

Les Amis Toujours ~ ca. 1925

The above eleven images are courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:


The above two images are courtesy of:

Kamorna ~ ca. 1930

The above two images are courtesy of:

Suggested readings:

The Spirit and Splendour of Art Deco (1974), by Alain Lesieutre: Paddington Press

Masterpieces of Ivory from the Walters Art Gallery (1985), by Richard H. Randall & the Walters Art Gallery: Hudson Hills Press

The Encyclopedia of Art Deco (1988), by Alastair Duncan: E. P. Dutton

Art Deco (1988), by Alastair Duncan: Thames & Hudson

Art Deco Sculpture (1992), by Victor Arwas: Academy Editions

Chiparus: Master of Art Deco (1999), by Alberto Shayo & Demetre Chiparus: Abbeville Press Publishers

Christie's Art Deco (2002), by Fiona Gallagher: Pavilion

Art Deco and Other Figures (2003), by Bryan Catley: Antique Collectors' Club 


  1. What a sublime journey through Chiparus' genius this has been...
    Grateful Thanks.


  2. Dear reader - I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It's my pleasure.

  3. I just came across your page and wanted to thank you so much for posting these.
    I was in Salamanca last summer and was overwhelmed by the beauty of its art deco collection. I never thought to look closely at this art form at all, but was mesmerized. When I got home to the States I looked online for more samples of the figurines, but the quality of the items I found was limited and the individual statues were for the most extremely unsophisticated. But your selection captures so much of what I saw in the museum: the artfulness in the hands of the dancers (! - very expressive and really what one tries to do with one's hands - as if the sculptor understood hands as much as a dancer does), the imaginative styles, the whimsical poses, the intimacy of the expression. Even the "sloppy" feet of some of the dancers is captured: Iin one case, she should have had her toes pointed more outward -- instead, the right foot is facing forward, as if she was in the pre-ballet period of dance (ballet being the ultimate turn-out of the toes at 180 degrees).

    So THANK YOU again!! I'm glad to know where I can revisit this beautiful art form -- when it's done right!

  4. Dear Julie - Wow! Thank you so much for your very enthusiastic response. I can't say I've had a comment quite as extensive or as perceptive as yours. Your observation on the dancer's feet was well-formed (and informed).

    Each century, I believe, has its own era(s) when all the "stars line up," as they say, and taste is in perfect harmony: creators create perfect examples of their era's tastes that come not only to reflect but also define that particular century. One the 20th century's is definitely the Art Deco & Art Moderne periods. For about 30 years - I'd say from around 1910-1939 - 20th century design was at its zenith: from architecture, sculpture, jewellery, fashion, automobiles, furniture and the visual as well as the decorative arts.

    It's for this reason that you'll find that time period so prevalent on this site; I'm just absolutely enthralled with the whole era.

    As for Demetre Chiparus, he was a product of his time period - it's the "lining up of the stars" I spoke of earlier: a taltented individual in possession of exquisite taste and skill, born and living at the right time, creating the perfect pieces of art for that era. Some people were destined to create and do great things within a specific period of time; Mr. Chiparus happened to be one of those people.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the article.

    ₵. Ð.

  5. A nice article but I wish you wouldn't include photographs of modern reproductions as examples of his work from the 1920s and 30s.

    1. Dear Sir or Madam:

      Thank you for you comment, but I must clarify that I am not an antiques (or a Chiparus) expert by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I claim to be such.

      As you know, reproductions can - and have - fool(ed) even the experts. That said, authentication is best left for the experts who have dedicated years acquainting themselves with their chosen subject or area of expertise - not for bloggers. From an amature's point of view, it must be pointed out that it is simply impossible to distinguish the authentic from the reproduced based on images found on the Internet.

      At any rate, as preferable as it would be to feature authentic pieces/examples of an artist's work, my main concern here is the artist's (or designer's) aesthetic sense, style, and vision - nothing more. The purpose of this site is to familiarize the viewer with an artist's (or designer's) métier & to give him or her a sense or feel for it, along with a basic, contextual knowledge of his or her life (within their specific era). I can only hope that I've succeeded in adequately doing just that.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Best regards,
      ₵. Ð.

  6. Dear ₵.Ð, I appreciate your taking the time to reply and I just want to state that I only commented because I don't think the reproductions (all the photographs used from and represent the fine quality of the original works of DH Chiparus because they are quite crude in their execution and carving. Maybe I should have been more detailed in my original comment and I sincerely hope I didn't upset you in any way, because that wasn't my intention. Kind regards, Craig.

    1. Dear Craig:

      Thanks for clarifying, but your comment didn't upset or offend me in the least. I'm here to learn (along with my readers & viewers) & I appreciate (constructive) feedback.

      I absolutely agree with you - reproductions cannot do the originals justice, which is precisely why originals are so valuable and reproductions, aside from their superficial decorative value, are not.

      I sincerely appreciate your comment & feedback.

      Best regards,
      ₵. Ð.

  7. I have two sculptures of which I think are original Chiparus's, that I've had for over 30 years. One looks just like "The Dancer" and one is similar to "Dancer of Kapurthala". Does anyone know of a reputable dealer/expert in northern California who I can contact? They are both gorgeous and I would like an honest opinion of them as to their value. Thanks! dedebouge

  8. Thank you for this wonderful site. I have searched on Chiparus many times and never saw this site. I actually found it by searching under Etling Paris which seems to have done exactly what I was trying to do, i.e., get rid of the 1000s of search results that I didn't want to see so that I could find some helpful and authentic sites to inform me about Chiparus. I have a bronze (no ivory) sculpture very similar to Hindu Dancer. I know it is not a one of a kind "original" but I'm thinking it may be one of the pieces made by the Etling foundery which were created and sold as agreed and authorized by Chiparus. The sculpture I have has wonderful details, including detailed toe nails and fingernails, supposedly a detail to look for which would help to identify it. To me, this piece is in a whole lot different catergory from the current day reproductions or "fakes". How can I find out more about it? Is there any resource that could tell me more about this issue? Also, is there anyone who can tell me what to look for in the method of attachment of the base to the sculpture? I'm thinking that might give me further evidence of its origins? Thanks again for your wonderful informative site. pg

    1. Dear Anonymous (P.G.):

      Thank you for your comment. In regards to your questions, I always recommend research (which is what you're already trying to pursue); while we have the option (& luxury) of accessing unimaginable sources & resources of information on the Internet, I still recommend researching the sculptor's work through books.

      I also suggest contacting reputable auction houses who deal with the Art Deco period & Art Deco pieces (Christie's, Sotheby's, Waddington's, et cetera); as their experts see such items, they have better a better knowledge base than most. If you could find a Demetre Chiparus expert, that would be ideal. And I think that's the key - education: by looking at someone's work, One becomes more & more familiar with an artist's work & its nuances, able to discern true quality (there's no substitute, however cleverly faked, for real quality). Which leads to my next point: the art market is a very tricky field as fakes are abundant & getting better at fooling the unsuspecting, the uninformed; One must be very careful - that is precisely why I recommend contacting reputable experts at well-established auction houses, better able to spot fakes.

      I hope that was helpful & wish you luck.

      ₵. Ð.

  9. How do I find a site to ascertain if my "footsteps" dancing Ivory/silver/marble statue is a fake or not.
    There is no signature on the base. Also, because we live in the tropics, the silver covering of the body is starting to come off!!!

    Any comments would be appreciated. J H

    1. Dear J.H.:

      As with the comment before yours (above), I always advise owners of artworks/objects who would like to ascertain whether or not a work in their possession is genuine, to attempt contacting an expert in the field attached to one of the more solidly reputable auction houses (Sotheby's, Waddington's, Christie's) for advice. I think it'd be worth your while to do so.

      Thank you for your comment & I wish you well in your endeavour.

      Best regards,
      ₵. Ð.

  10. I have the opportunity to purchase a 1/50 cast of the Civa Temple Goddess with out the temple.
    It is signed and appears authentic. I believe the price is too high at $800. Do you have a price recommendation? I saw the same piece sold on an auction site for $200. Thank you, Holly

    1. Dear Ms. Brouker:

      From what I understand, Chiparus is one of those artists whose work is much in demand & therefore, just as much faked (for obvious reasons; where there is demand, there is a market). That said, I am not an expert, nor am I an auctioneer so I am not the person who can give you an adequate & satisfactory response. (Even if I were, I wouldn't venture to give anyone an estimate on something, sight unseen.) But even as an amateur & an admirer of Chiparus, I am suspect of an original piece going for $200. Personally, I would shy away from online auctions - unless they're one of the established, reputable auction houses.

      If I were in your position, to get the best & accurate recommendation, I would spend some time researching pirce ranges for Chiparus sculptures (you may already have done that); I would do my research at auction houses such as Waddington's, Christie's, Sotheby's, Antiquorum, Bonhams or Fellows & compare prices, sizes & pieces. That's the best advice I can give you.

      With best regards,
      ₵. Ð.