Robert Prenzel was born in 1866 in the Prussian town of Kittliztreben, in present-day Poland. After a four-year apprenticeship, further studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and another four years of work experience around Europe, he emigrated to Australia at the age of 22. Trained in the classical European styles, he arrived in Melbourne in 1888, where he came to define Australian craft and design throughout the first quarter of the 20th century.
30 September 2021
Basing himself in Melbourne, Prenzel’s work was pivotal to the movement and epoch of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. In the early 1900s, he predominantly produced commissioned works for churches and public spaces in Continental Rococo and Baroque styles, before opening his own furniture workshop on Toorak Road in central Melbourne in 1910. From here, Prenzel came to pioneer the secessionist movement of Australian woodcarving, known as Gum Nut Art Nouveau.
Using mostly native timbers, Prenzel produced everything from pictorial wall plaques to longcase clocks. Developing a unique artistic style, his works combined the vogue of European Art Nouveau with carved motifs of Australian flora and fauna, the majority of which were based on paintings, descriptive texts, and photographs by his contemporaries. Through the use of this two-dimensional imagery, Prenzel often allowed for individual interpretations and imaginations of his subject matters introducing minor changes and alterations to each three-dimensional rendering, giving each its unique characteristics.
Prenzel’s work was phenomenally well received by his contemporaries, both in Australia and abroad. Throughout his career he championed Australian flora and fauna, founding a botanical garden in South Melbourne and serving as an advisor on the subject to the Commonwealth government. However, it was cut short by the Anti-German sentiments of the Post-World War I era, eventually forcing him into retirement during the mid-1920s. In spite of this, he continued carving and working from his home in Black Rock until his death in 1941.
Lot 15 | Design - Tuesday 19 October 2021
Robert Prenzel (German, 1866-1941), two wood carved reliefs, one depicting a laughing Aboriginal man, the other depicting an Aboriginal woman smoking a pipe, signed and dated 'R. Prenzel 1917' and 'R. Prenzel 1918' respectively, the laughing man incised to the verso 'Robt. Prenzel, Toorak Rd South Yarra, Sept 1917', the man 45 x 35cm the woman 40 x 36cm (2)
Estimate £2,000 - £3,000
Sworders are delighted to be offering two of Prenzel’s most recognised designs from the peak of his career, in the upcoming two-day Design sale on the 19 and 20 of October. ‘Woman with a Pipe’ and ‘The Laughing Man’, after the original photograph by Henry King, were both among his most frequent and celebrated subject matter, both as small embellishments and as standalone portrait carvings. Having been dismounted from their original backboards, these works are indicative of the intricacy and skill of Prenzel’s carvings and are estimated to make £2,000-3,000 as a pair.
Otto Billström - Valuer | Design
We are currently consigning for our autumn auction of Design to be held on Monday 24 & Tuesday 25 October with entries closing Friday 9 September.
23 June 2022
Created for government officials in the city of Chandigarh, India, the 'V' Type Armchair was expertly crafted from humidity and bug resistant wood, ensuring they could withstand the test of time.
22 June 2022
A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown comes to auction in the summer. The two-volume manuscript included in our August 23 sale of Books and Maps was used from the 16th to the19th century by landowners in Norfolk and Suffolk.
21 June 2022