- Even if ‘Flame Leaper‘ is not necessarily by ‘Fritz Preiss’ it is interesting to know his story. However, ‘Fritz Preiss’ is a name often incorrectly referred to leading German art Deco sculptor, Ferdinand Preiss. His works are regarded as the pinnacle of Art Deco sculpture and are greatly valued by modern collectors.
Johann Philipp Ferdinand Preiss was born on 13 February 1882 in Erbach im Odenwald, as one of six children. He attended schools in Michelstadt and had aspirations of becoming an engineer, until the age of 15, when both of his parents died within a short time span. Not long afterwards, Preiss was apprenticed to the ivory carver Philipp Willmann and lived with his family.
In 1901, at the age of 19, Preiss traveled to Rome and Paris. He became a friend of Arthur Kassler in Baden-Baden, which led to the founding of the company Preiss & Kassler, operating from Berlin. Kassler became the business-minded partner and Preiss controlled artistic production.
Initially the company created small ivory carvings of children and statuettes of classical form, often carved from old ivory billiard balls. From 1910, the firm grew to specialize in limited edition Art Deco cabinet sculptures that used painted bronze with ivory on plinths of onyx and marble, or as mantelpiece clocks and lampstands. Preiss revolutionized the production of chryselephantine statues with his use of a dental drill for a more precise form of ivory carving. Preiss designed nearly all the firm’s models and many of his most famous works depict modern, naturalistic 20th-century women from the sports and theatrical world.
Casting of the pieces was initially done by the Aktien-Gesellschaft Gladenbeck foundry in Berlin and later by their own Preiss & Kassler foundry. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the company was employing six extremely skilled ivory carvers from Erbach and exporting regularly to England and the United States. A small factory was set up in England to assemble the sculptures from parts manufactured in Germany which also avoided taxes on imports.
- The firm closed after Preiss’s death from a brain tumour on 29 July, 1943. The old workshop in Ritterstraße, Berlin, which was housing the stock of samples, was gutted by a fire resulting from a bomb attack, shortly before the end of World War II.
“Is It Art?”