Art Deco Figurine Buying Guide

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Art Deco Figurine Buying Guide
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Art Deco Figurine Buying Guide

The Art Deco movement's influence on home décor was instrumental in shaping how our homes are furnished, and that impact continues to be felt up to this day. The decorative figurines made during the 1920s and 1930s are a prominent example of how Art Deco contributed to style and taste of modern society. Collectors and enthusiasts continue to seek the male, female, and animal figurines from the Art Deco movement for home decoration or display cases, but upon browsing, a prospective buyer may note that the selection can be varied and overwhelming. Due to use of a wide variety of materials, the marketplace can be a difficult place to navigate, however, through defining these materials, the definition of an Art Deco piece, the types of figurines on offer, and their typical features; this guide aims to better prepare a buyer to purchase the right Art Deco figurine for their needs.

History of Art Deco Figurines

Some of the earliest ceramic figurines date back tens of thousands of years to the Neolithic era, while more modern figurines from the Iron Age are thought to have originated around three thousand years ago. Due to the extreme age of these original pieces, the purposes that they served cannot be known exactly, though it is believed that they likely had religious significance. The more recognisable porcelain figurines of recent years came originally from China, but were later made famous in Germany during the early eighteenth century. These pieces were used as decorations in the home and depicted scenes or people, often of religious importance, and could be placed above a fire’s hearth or on shelves to compliment a room’s décor. This use continued into the beginning of the twentieth century and found its way into the designs of the Art Deco movement, where design and liberation soared after the end of the First World War.

Discover Art Deco Figurines

Believed to have started in Paris at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in 1925, the Art Deco movement took its name from the French Arts Décoratifs, and radically shaped the design landscape of the twentieth century. The style found within the choice of figurines is generally indicative of the wider aesthetic approaches of the Art Deco movement. With its departure from the complex and ornate Victorian era that preceded it, Art Deco embraced strong, geometric shapes and symmetry. The boom of the machine age during this inter-war period also inspired sleek, minimal lines that evoked speed and power, often employing ‘exotic’ materials from around the world. The sense of sexual liberation during this time also had a particular impact on Art Deco figurines, leading many of the male and female figures to be scantily clad or naked. These unique and immediately identifiable items are considered by many to be timeless in their beauty and appeal.

Materials Used in Art Deco Figurines

Comprised of a sculpted figure attached to a solid base, Art Deco figurines could be made from many materials.

Base

Material

Description

Wood

Various species were used, including mahogany, ebony and rosewood.

Marble

A soft rock that is not prone to shattering.

Onyx

A soft and smooth crystallised stone made from quartz and moganite.

Figure

Material

Description

Spelter

An alloyed metal made from zinc and copper.

Glass

Occasionally used for figural lamps and can be crystal, frosted or stained.

Terracotta

Clay-based material that is generally unglazed.

Bronze

A metal alloy made from of copper and tin.

Plaster

A dry powder mixed with water that is then allowed to harden.

Ivory

The teeth or tusks of an animal such as an elephant.

Alabaster

A hard variety of the calcite mineral that is suited to sculpture.

Types of Art Deco Figurines

Art Deco figurines often depicted women, but below are several other varieties to be found on the market.

Type

Description

Female

A woman, sometimes with few clothes or naked.

Flapper

Sub-category of the female figurines. The Flapper design specifically features a ‘free-spirited’ and female character, often laughing while being partially undressed.

Male

A man, sometimes with few clothes and engaged in a rigorous activity such as fishing.

Animal

Could feature a number of impressive wild animals, from jaguars to birds.

Group

A scenario that includes a male or female figure with one or more animals surrounding it.

Figural Lamp

An Art Deco lamp that has a figurine sculpted into the base.

Factors to Consider When Buying Art Deco Figurines

Before committing to any particular purchase, a buyer may want to consider a few factors.

  • Art Deco ‘style’ – A buyer should be aware that reproductions of Art Deco figurines exist on the market. It is best to know the age and manufacturer of an Art Deco piece.
  • Antique Value – Considering that many professionals consider items dated pre-1930s to be antique, a buyer may end up purchasing figurines of antique value even though the figurine is less than 100 years old.
  • Condition – It is good to ensure that there has been no damage to the base or figure over the years, as they are liable to chip or crack if dropped.
  • Retouching – Considering these figurines are old, a buyer should enquire as to whether a piece has been repainted or repaired in any way as this could alter its value.
  • Ask questions – The sellers are usually very helpful in offering up information on their items, so do not hesitate to ask. Try to get information about the age, condition, and any other details they may have that would confirm that they are selling is a genuine Art Deco figurine.

Typical Features of Art Deco Figurines

Marble

While there are a range of possible materials, Art Deco figurine bases are generally fashioned from various colours of marble, often combined to create patterns and contrast. Marble choice generally leans towards black or white in shade, and can be ‘striated,’ giving the base lines of alternating colour.

Spelter and Bronze

Most Art Deco figurines are made from metal. A common choice for the era was spelter, though it is cheaper and lighter when compared to bronze. Bronze is a harder alloy and so in theory more difficult to break.

Patina

Many spelter and bronze Art Deco figurines will have a green or brown colouration caused by the reaction of the metal with the air. This ‘patina’ is often seen as a positive feature as it indicates both authenticity and protects the piece against possible further decay.

The Human Form

Most Art Deco human forms are depicted as nudes or semi-nudes, and are often ‘at one’ with nature. This liberated Art Deco influence is typified by the ‘flapper’ design, depicting a 1920s free-spirited woman in a state of undress.

How to Care for Art Deco Figurines

In order to keep Art Deco figurines at their best, a buyer may wish to consider a few simple guidelines for maintenance.

  • The cleaning of metal is not always possible or necessary. Bronze and spelter designs cannot always be polished up to shine like silver, especially if they have an authentic patina built up over the years.
  • If cleaning spelter, wash in hot soapy water and then scrub with a stiff wire brush and oil. When this is complete, clean again with methylated spirits.
  • If noticing brighter patches of colour within the patina of bronzed figurines, take the figurine to an antique professional, as it may be indicative of corrosive ‘bronze disease.’
  • Ensure that figurines, if made of delicate materials such as plaster or wood, are not kept near fires or in direct sunlight.

Art Deco Figurine Manufacturers

  • Le Verrier
  • Rochard
  • Carlier
  • Villanis
  • Hagenuer
  • Lavroff
  • Rioto
  • Priess
  • Lorenzl
  • Chiparus

Finding Art Deco Figurines on eBay

Once you determine the type of Art Deco figurine you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Art Deco’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Art Deco Figurines on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for Art Deco figurines. For example, to find a bronze female figurine with a marble base, type ‘bronze female figurine with a marble base’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tipspage for more advice on searching for Art Deco figurines with keywords. If you can’t find the exact figurine you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion

The influence of the Art Deco era over the world of design was vast, and the figurines of the 1920s and 1930s are still sought after for their unique depictions of the human and animal form. Whether you are intending to add a single piece to your home, or embark on a collection, the above-mentioned guidelines can help to isolate the many choices that arise when purchasing Art Deco figurines. Considerations such as what defines an Art Deco piece, the types and materials found on the market, the typical features to look out for, and tips for care and maintenance, are all important factors to take into account. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an Art Deco figurine safely and securely on eBay.

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