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In the hunt for bronze; These painted figures are well worth seeking out.

Naughty but nice: Franz Bergman's cold-painted bronze metamorphic owl reveals the hidden nude lady. It measures 7.5 inches and sold for PS3,600. Picture: PETER WILSON DO winters seem harder work the older we get? Somehow, it feels like it but no worries, spring is pushing out the grey and with the clocks soon going forwards, car boot sales beckon.

The luckiest among us will uncover some priceless but long-forgotten antique or work of art that could change the life of the finder. Keep an eye out for bronze models of cats like the one illustrated, bottom.

While not exactly a car boot find - the life-size Egyptian relic dated by the British Museum to 700-500BC was discovered standing in front of a gas fire in a cottage in Cornwall - its sale certainly was a life-changer.

It fetched a cool PS52,000.

It reminded us of a car boot find we made last year and, ironically, it was another cat, although admittedly somewhat younger. The seller was certain it was made of lead and he reckoned it was a child's plaything. The only thing lead about it was the paint used to decorate it.

In fact, it was a tiny cold-painted bronze model of a tabby, one of a host of models of animals and other exotic creations made probably in one of the 50 or so Viennese foundries in business in the mid to late 19th century. Its value? In the saleroom, perhaps PS60-80.

The Bronze Age began about 2,000 years before Christ. Since then, among other things, we've been spending it, fighting with it, cooking in it and decorating our homes with it.

An alloy of copper and tin, its properties make bronze ideally suited to casting: as it solidifies, it expands to fill every last intricate detail of a mould. On cooling, it then contracts slightly, making removal of the mould a simple process.

Famous sculptors have been attracted to such a perfect medium from antiquity to the present day, but for every one piece by a name that's revered, there are thousands that collectors of modest means can acquire and enjoy.

Our personal favourite is Franz Xavier Bergman (1861-1936), probably the most famous of the Viennese sculptors who specialised in cold-painted bronzes.

But first, let's be clear of the difference between, say, our tabby cat and a bronze from antiquity.

The latter has a surface untouched by anything other than time. Over the centuries such pieces develop a patina caused by oxidation and are highly prized by connoisseur collectors who appreciate the effects of age (which is why cleaning them is such a specialised task).

The former are decorated with several layers of special, heavy lead-based polychrome paints, applied after objects are removed from the mould. Pieces decorated with enamels would normally be kiln-fired to melt the paint and ensure it has fused to the surface of the object to be decorated.

Cold-painted bronzes are not subjected to the enamelling process - they remain cold - relying on the standard of painting to dictate the quality of the finished item.

The technique was popular around the turn of the century and thousands upon thousands of the little animals and other figures, some as small as a few inches in height, poured out of Viennese foundries. Bergman's manufactory was one of thleading makers.

It was founded by his father, also Franz (1838-1894), a professional metachaser from Gablonz, in This b Austria, who came to Vienna in 1860. Franz Xavier inherited the business on his father's ronze cat for PS52,000 retirement and opened a bigger, much more productive foundry there in 1900.

By no means all the animal figures came from Bergman's works, but many did and sadly, many are unmarked. Those that are carry a capital "B" in a vase-shaped design, the presence of which removes any doubt as to the provenance.

Bergman was also a fan of the exotic, producing larger figures and groups. Some depict Arabs, perhaps selling colourfully painted carpets, riding camels or sitting in tents at an oasis complete with palm tree and water. Others are based on models from Bergman senior's days.

More rare are those wired for electricity and fitted with small light bulbs to be used as table or bedside lamps. Being bigger objects, such pieces are more likely to carry the factory mark.

Prices often run into four figures. Bergman junior also had an eye for the erotic, fantasy pieces which today's collectors covet most. Always featuring a naked or scantily-clad young woman in sensuous pose, Edwardian bachelors no doubt delighted in showing them off to their friends. But they were subtle too.

The Arab selling a carpet, a model of an owl, a bear or some other unassuming object was constructed cleverly with a hidden button or lever which, when activated, causes the model to open, revealing the saucy secrets hidden inside.

Expect to pay handsomely for such novelties.

They were no doubt pricey when they were new. Manufacturing them was also something of a risk for Bergman, but he covered his tracks by marking them with the tradename "Nam Greb".

The joy of cold-painted bronzes in general and those by Bergman in particular are the vibrant colours that remain so in the best examples.

Therein lies the problem. Being unfired, the paint remains soft and, therefore vulnerable. Damage occurs easily and few examples are in mint condition. Those that are sell for a premium.

DON'T POLISH OFF THE PATINA IF YOU care at all for bronze, on't ever polish it. Bronze highly susceptible to orrosion - it turns dark rown or greenish brown hen exposed to the mosphere, but this is nsidered one of the metal's derful attributes. The surface colour - or tina as it is called - should protected at all costs. o do otherwise can have a seriously adverse affect on the value of a bronze object and will spoil its appeal, possibly for ever.

Under no circumstances should any metal polish be used and bronze should always be kept away from water. Instead, a light dusting is all that is required and perhaps careful rubbing with a clean cloth.

Avoid rubbing hard, particularly on raised parts where the patina could be worn away.

Dust in crevices can be removed with a cotton bud moistened with saliva. Dull patination can be revived with the sparing application of a microcrystalline wax.

bronze inkstand by Franz Bergman. It measures 8.25 inches and sold for PS1,350


A late 19th century cold-painted bronze by Franz Bergman of an Arab camel trader. It measures 5.25 inches and sold for PS400. PICTURE: The Canterbury

An Austrian cold-painted bronze electric table lamp. It measures 15inches. Saleroom value: PS700-1,000
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 18, 2015
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