David Freeman's collection of Hagenauer and Art Deco Nubians



2015-06-26 10:53:42

David Freeman is a collector of Hagenauer and Art Deco Nubians and the CEO of Amanda Addams Auctions and David Freeman Antique Valuations.


Becoming a collector

David has been a compulsive collector since he was a child. At the tender age of nine, he attended his first auction at Munyards auction rooms in a Melbourne suburb, where he bid on a 19th-century mantle clock by the famous American company, Ansonia.

David was bidding against adults and, although not too sure of what he was doing, he beat them all to the final bid. In 1960, 2 shillings and 6 pence (25 U.S. cents) was a fortune to a nine year old. To this day, David can recall the adrenaline rush.

As a collector, one has to wheel and deal and David learned this very early on. He kept the clock with numerous other collections that he accumulated over the years; it was more than a clock to him. It was a trophy.

In order to become a discerning collector and build a great collection, one has to first purchase a lot of garbage. Over the past three decades, David have built numerous collections, from Doulton Lambeth ceramic wares of England, to Australian pottery, to German WMF figurines. He has also collected art works by Australian social realist artists; Scandinavian etched glass; small clocks; trinket boxes; and Italian and Scandinavian studio pottery from Art Deco to the late 1970s. David keeps adding on, as there is always something different to collect. But wherever his interests have taken him, his love of all things Art Deco has remained unchanged.

Of the numerous styles of Art Deco, it is Nubian figurines manufactured in studios or workshops in Austria and Germany from the 1920 to 1950 that David loves the most. Pivotal to the creation of these collectable figures – named from the Ancient nomads that ruled the River Nile through to Egypt and Northern Sudan was the wide adoption “exotic” elements into Art Deco designs in Europe, especially in colonial powers like France. European Artists and Designers influencing the development of Modernism embraced ancient or non-western objects, such as Far Eastern, Egyptian or African art, their stylized forms.

Art Deco Nubians

The vogue for what was known as l’art Nègre reached its height in 1920s Paris, especially in the cabaret world, where African Americans had already dazzled Parisians with le Jazz and a wild new dance called the Charleston.

In 1925, musicians and dancers from Harlem, New York, assembled at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris to perform in La Revue Nègre. The most idolized was Josephine Baker (1906-1975), a petite pretty dancer from St. Louis, Missouri. An instant sensation from the moment she entered the stage, Baker was destined to become an icon of the era. For the first time in modern Europe, black was beautiful.

David's collection, which has taken many years to build, started with a Bakelite calling-card stand depicting Josephine Baker that David convinced a reluctant friend and dealer to sell to him. He acquired his first bronze Nubian figurine while on vacation in Tasmania, when he went to a gallery to purchase a painting, and the Nubian was thrown in as a bonus after much haggling. Today, it is the Nubian that is most dear to David.

The male figures are regal and manly with their spears and shields. But it is the female figures that captivate David with their beauty. Some wear bracelets, neck rings or huge earrings; some grass skirts; and other hold implements or a child. David's favourite medium for these figures is bronze, but he has pieces in ceramic, terra cotta, pottery and wood. They differ greatly from artist to artist, each with his or her own flavour and interpretation.

The factories that most of David's Nubian pieces come from were much celebrated in the Art Deco period. He has Anzengruber and Goldscheider ceramics from Austria (about 50 figures, heads and busts) and also Ravelli Nubian Ceramics from the early 1950s. But his favourite examples are Nubians Bronzes by Hagenauer of Vienna Austria.


Austrian designer Carl Hagenauer established Hagenauer Werkstatten in 1898 and produced decorative metal wares and bronzes designed in-house in the modernist and Jugendstil styles.

His factory, which exported its wares worldwide, also manufactured pieces by independent designers, such E. J. Meckel, Josef Hoffmann and Otto Prutscher.

Hagenauer entered many exhibitions in London, Paris and Berlin, where its innovative designs won numerous awards.

Carl’s son Karl (1898-1956) joined the firm in 1919. After Carl’s death in 1928, Karl and his brother Franz (1906-1986) expanded the workshop and began modelling and manufacturing African-inspired sculptures. The figurines were lithe and elegant, with elongated limbs and faces and elaborate hairstyles. They embodied the European concept of the inherent decorative quality and spontaneous creativity of Africa.

Collecting Hagenauer

At the entry level are Hagenauer’s African stick figures, typically in tribal costume and carrying metal or wood implements; Hagenauer also made African and domestic animals that were produced in the 1920s, 1930s and again after World War 2 through to early 1950s, reflecting popular interest in the continuation of colonialism.

More desirable are the larger wood and metal African figures and busts, with stylized bodies and sculptural poses. The most valuable are distinctly Art Deco-style designs of African inspiration. Masks, some on a scale similar to authentic African masks, consist of multiple elements and materials; they often echo Pablo Picasso’s works.

Hagenauer also created Western figurines, although these are less common. They include figures in stylish costumes, mainly in sheet metal or brass, often on a large scale for use in shop displays. When consumer demand for furniture grew after WWII, Hagenauer began to produce furniture. After Karl Hagenauer’s death in 1956, his brother, Franz, who taught at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, continued the workshop until 1986, making new designs that are considered authentic Hagenauer pieces.

In the 1980s and 1990s, fake reproductions produced in Great Britain, such as sheet metal or brass figures and large African busts in chrome and gilt brass, abounded. Fakes were also made 50 and 60 years ago in some South American countries. Even major auction houses have unwittingly sold fakes.

RR on the base stands for Richard Rohac, who left Hagenauer after World War II to make his own interpretation of popular works. The collector must be wary of confusing these initials for Hagenauer’s production for Rena Rosenthal from the mid 1930s to the early 1950s, destined for her gift shop at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York; the Rosenthal pieces were impressed with the name “Rena.” Hagenauer manufactured many of the items sold by Rena Rosenthal to her design and price structure. She also used Richard Rohac to manufacture lines for her shop, as Rohac items were slightly inferior and inexpensive compared to Hagenauer items.

Hagenauer reproductions that have been made from original castings are acceptable to Hagenauer collectors as true reproductions, not fakes, and they are more affordable than the limited-run originals. Still, larger Hagenauer reproduction figures and busts can cost up to $30,000. Ron Hagenauer, Karl’s grandson, sells Hagenauer items in the Galerie Hagenauer in Vienna, ranging from about two to 70 inches in height. He has plans to publish a book and organize a retrospective exhibition of Hagenauer Werkstatten.

David's collecting advice

David's advice to budding Hagenauer collectors: seek professional advice and only afterwards purchase any rare items, even though they may be accompanied by impeccable provenance. If you were planning to collect Hagenauer items, now is the time to start, as the prices begin to rise.

Quittenbaum Auctions in Munich sold the Philippe Perroud Hagenauer collection in April 2010, producing an informative catalogue as well. Among the 329 items in the collection were numerous larger Nubians, busts and figures, some of which achieved outstanding prices, several times their original estimate. The most stunning price was an 8-inch-high figure called Ashanti, produced in late 1940s. Estimated at 800 to 960 Euros, it sold for 11,000 Euros plus buyer’s premium. (I purchased a similar figure from a dealer in Vienna in 2008 for $1,150.)

Where to Buy Hagenauer Nubian Figurines

David suggests the following places to purchase Hagenauer Nubian Figurines.


LA Modern
Rago Arts and Auction Center




Galerie Fischer
The Dorotheum Auction House
Gallerie Hagenauer
Von Zezschwitz Art and Design
Hampel Art Auctions


Eastbourne Auctions Rooms


Amanda Addams Auctions
Lawson’s and Leonard Joel


1st Dibs


For digging deeper, unfortunately, not many publications have appeared in recent years for the budding collector, but for starters, try reading some of the books listed below.

Although most are not in English, many of the illustrations are stunning.

  • Goldscheider: Firmengeschichte und Werkverzeichnis, Historismus, Jugendstil: Art Deco, 1950er Jahre (English: History of the company and catalogue of works, historicism, art nouveau, Art Deco, the fifties) by Robert E. Dechant and Filipp Goldscheider; Stuttgart : Arnoldsche, 2007.
  • Art Deco 1910-1939 by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood (eds); London: V&A Publications, 2003.
  • Anzengruber Keramik Wien by Uta M. Matschiner, Linz: Denkmayr, 2002.
  • Walter Bosse: Leben, Kunst und Handwerk, 1904-1979, by Cherica Schreyer-Hartmann; Vienna: Christian Brandstätter, 2000.
  • Magyar Art Deco Keramika by Fabian Sandor, 2000.
  • Art Deco Sculpture and Metalware by Alfred W. Edward; Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1996.

In David's words

You don't realise when it happens or how it happens but all of a sudden you realise that you are a collector, you know that you're a collector because you find it painful to throw anything away (I mean anything).

Before you know it you have been collecting for years and even decades, not only have you been collecting but also you have been conserving, recycling and reclaiming as well as re assigning and amassing.

Your taste may stay the same or you may go off into different directions but your still a collector, you may one day find yourself overpowered by your collection (more often it is the spouse how is overwhelmed) and sell it all, but before your know it there you go again collecting.

Some people start of collecting as a trend, a pastime or by accident as a tourist no matter how they become collectors because it's "in the blood".

Collectors come in all shapes and sizes and budgets; collecting knows no gender, religion or nationality.
Collectors are highly sentimental creatures, incredibly curious and they become experts in their own rights. There are the odd collectors who are ashamed of their habits, I say be proud because through your obsessive-compulsive behaviour you have learned a great deal of history, have conserved recycled and reinvented (all noble attributes).

Be proud as you're not drunks, smokers or gamblers, yours is a positive and rewarding addiction, you haven't poured money down a drain, you have enjoyed the chase, the possession and you will reap the financial rewards when it is time to sell.

As for me I have been collecting now for fifty years (WOW!), I have gone into numerous directions of collecting, the one thing that I have stayed true to is "A thing of Quality is for Ever" and "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" My collecting passions from 1961 to 1969, the learning phase, I purchased anything that was well priced, I will always remember my first purchase in 1961 as a ten year old bidding against adults –Munyards Auctions at Croydon market (Outer Eastern Melbourne suburbs) purchasing a late 19th century Ansonia cottage clock for 2 shillings and 6 pence. My collecting phase from 1970 to 1979 was Australian pottery and carnival glass; I amassed over 200 items, and then sold the whole collection to one dealer. From 1980 to about 1990, I went through my Doulton Lambeth studio pottery phase, amounting a huge collection, of Hannah and Florence Barlow, Mark Marshall, Frank Butler, George Tinworth etc, which due to a marriage break up, I had to sell to one collector at a fire sale price. From 1990 to about 1999, I went through my Art Glass phase, also amassing a huge collection, before slowly selling off the collection. From about 1999 onwards, my passion, has been Art Deco, 20th century design, Art, and Hagenauer African figures, I still enjoy finding that rare and exciting item to add to the collection.

Friends and clients over the years have asked me to guide them into the next big thing! In collecting, what should they buy and how to avoid pitfalls.

My answer is always the same; only collect what you like or what you are passionate about (you can't go by other peoples likes or dislikes).

There is no one answer to successful collecting, the variables are great as you continue to collect you become an expert in your field based on experience, sure you will make loses but the losses will lead you to great wins, Happy collecting!

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