Q: My brother recently gave me this bench to try and research. I have sent pictures to a few different people, but they could not identify it nor place any value. Could you give me some history and place a value? It seems overly ornate to just be a simple bench. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
A: Let’s begin with the style and date of this iron bench with its tattered cushion. It was probably made around 1925 and is in the famous Art Deco style.
The bench ends are quite extravagant and show a nude dancer clad in a cape and holding what appear to be two feather fans. There is an arch over her head and a star at her feet. At her side are two anthropomorphic figures of beasts with animal heads, hoofed feet and human legs and torsos.
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The rest is V-shaped supports, and in the photograph, there is a coppery cast that suggests the presence of some sort of bronze, maybe as a plating. The bench ends rise above the dirty and torn fabric seat to form armrests shaped like a stylized cross inside a trapezoid.
The last decorative element of note is the dancer has been painted with what appears to be a kind of beige flesh tone — and if this bench is restored, this paint must not be touched, though it is a bit worn in places.
It is possible that this bench was once used in a theater — perhaps a burlesque theater, but that is just speculation on our part. However, we do wonder how many homeowners would like a bench featuring a nude fan dancer as the central motif, and that could affect the value.
The term Art Deco was not in wide use until the late 1960s, but the style that has been tagged with this designation has roots that go back to 1909 and the vivid and bold set designs created for the Ballet Russe in Paris by Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev. This “modern” look was soon adopted by fashion designers, sculptors, architects, interior designers and makers of everything from furniture to glass.
Unfortunately, World War I stifled the development of the movement, but it flourished once again after the conflict was over and reached its peak at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The phrase “arts decoratifs” gave rise to the more generic term Art Deco.
There are two types of Art Deco — one that is very industrial with no nonsense that features squares, circles, rectangles and straight clean lines; the other features stylized fruit and flowers, and its icon was the bobbed-hair flapper (such as the central figure in today’s bench). Art Deco was an artistic style that was soon corrupted by more manufactured images, and the true style perished in the 1930s (only to be revived later).
The value of this bench depends on its condition, and in this state with its tattered cushion, it might have a retail value in the $150 to $200 range. But with a well-restored cushion (using only the best fabric), that value could soar to the $500 to $700 range.
Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email email@example.com. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.