The bear facts of ‘Black Forest’ carvings10 September 2020 Despite the name, the popular models of bears and other mountain fauna bought home by Victorian and Edwardian tourists, were chiefly created in Brienz, Switzerland.
The home of ‘Black Forest’ carvings was Brienz in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region
The Baedeker's Travel Guide of the period describes the small town on Lake Brienz as having a population of 2400, of whom as many as 600 persons were employed as woodcarvers. A thriving cottage industry led to the founding of the Brienz School of Wood Carving in 1884 complete with its own menagerie for students to study up close the wild and domestic animals and birds frequently as models.
Brienz, like Interlaken and Luzern, was a standard destination for Europeans and Americans on the Grand Tour. For those on a budget there were multiple cheap and cheerful anonymously-made cottage industry souvenirs - cuckoo clocks, tea caddies, tobacco jars, decanter stoppers, coat hooks and the like - quickly worked in the native linden and maple.
For the wealthiest customers were the finely-made (and occasionally signed) products from the workshops of master carvers - names such as Johann Huggler (1834-1912) and Walter Mäder - who were regulars the international exhibition circuit.
At the Paris exhibition in 1900 (the event that is best known today as the showcase for the Art Nouveau style) Switzerland created its own Alpine village complete with an area devoted to Brienz wood carvings and a range of carved wood furniture populated by near life-size renderings of mountain dogs and bears.
It is the quality of the workmanship, plus the appeal of the subject and its size, that continues to determine prices of ‘Black Forest' wares today. Plenty of decorative material is available below £100 but expect to pay four- and even five-figure sums for the biggest and best pieces.
Pictured here is a selection of pieces available this month on thesaleroom.com
A Black Forest carving of a cow wearing neck bell, 24cm long, £150-200 at Morphets of Harrogate on September 10.
A Black Forest musical decanter box modelled as a Swiss chalet, 60cm wide, £800-1200 at Halls of Shrewsbury on September 16.
Two carved Black Forest bears, 13cm and 9cm high - £60-80 at Busby Auctions, Bridport on September 17.
A Black Forest type cuckoo clock, 52cm high, £80-120 at Chorleys of Prinknash Abbey on September 22-23