Franz Hagenauer, Austrian (1906 - 1986)

Franz Hagenauer
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. A

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 Freeman'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.

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