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
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Revue Dancer ~ ca. 1925
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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
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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)
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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

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Kamorna ~ ca. 1930

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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