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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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"Les Girls" only Chiparus sculpture to feature five figures on a single base; circa 1928; 20 ¼ inches high; sold for $936,000. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.
His timeless beauties are frozen in time and they still seem to be moving. Long, lean, alluring and active, Dimitri Chiparus understood the art of sculpting women. He sculpted them in a way that celebrated the female form.

Chiparus specialized in exotic, graceful dancers. The jewel-like costumes his sculptures wear almost sway as they move. Other costumes hug the dancers flesh like a second skin.

The artist was active in Paris during the rise of the Art Deco movement in the 1920s. He was inspired by the elegant dancers of the Ballets Russe in the music halls. He was also moved by the sexy, chorus line acts in the nightclubs.

Chiparus purchased all the magazines which illustrated the dancers. The women and their elaborate costumes, the dramatic performances--everything fed his art.

He sculpted a world of decadence and luxury. His art was a tribute to theatrical drama and the Art Deco era.

Chiparus’ later works in the 1920's were influenced heavily by his interest in Egypt and the excavation of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Much of his sculpture is a combination of bronze and ivory inlay. His ladies often rest on elegant onyx and marble bases. It’s the kind of sculpture that coaxes collectors to buy another and another.

“Les Girls” is a good example. The sculpture depicts a chorus line of five dancers in perfectly timed movement. Their costumes are so snug they look like bare skin laced in jewels. Their movements are so unified they seem connected. The only thing missing here is the music driving them.

The piece was edited in three different dancing variations, including a single figure, a three-figure group, and a five-figure group. The five-figure version sold at auction on April 17, 2007. It was the only sculpture by Chiparus to feature that many figures on a single base. “Les Girls” brought $936,000 at Sotheby’s, New York

Most of the twelve Chiparus bronzes sold in the auction originally came from the collection of Frederic M. Babbish. Each was chosen for its striking design and pristine condition. Each made flesh the Art Deco style.

Chiparus worked mostly with the Etling Foundry in Paris. Etling’s agent in London, E. Pitcher & Co., sold the Chiparus figures to wealthy buyers in countries like India, Australia, the United States and Central and South America.

The sculptor’s work almost always bears his name, D. H. Chiparus or Chiparus; engraved on the base. The foundry stamp of Etling Paris is often there too. It may be faint and easy to miss.

Reproductions abound and signatures alone don’t mean much. The answer is in the details.

Look closely at the long, elegant fingers. The fingernails should be so precise you can see each individual nail. In fact, everything about the sculpture including the earrings, face, costuming, legs and feet should bear intricate detail.

Here are some current values for other Chiparus bronzes sold in the auction.

Chiparus Bronzes

Almeria; exuberant curves of skirt emphasize the dynamism of the female figure; circa 1928; 25 1/16 inches high; $264,000.

Danseuse De Kamorna; bronze resembles folklore costumes Alexandre Golovine created for the ballet “Firebird” in 1910; also incorporates attributes of Ballets Russes and Eastern exoticism; circa 1928; 20 inches high; $312,000.

Clara; sweeping floor pose embodies lines of eastern dancers; circa 1928; 21 ½ inches high; $312,000.

Semiramis; legendary Babylonian queen; artist recreates her as a vamp from silent cinema; circa 1928; 26 ½ inches high; $420,000.

Chiva; Hindu god portrayed as a female; favorite subject for early modern dancers; bears one of the more elaborate bases Chiparus did; circa 1928; 28 inches high; $468,000.

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