Robert PRENZEL, Fireplace surround Enlarge 1 /1


Kittlitztreben, Silesia, Prussia 1866 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1941

  • to Australia 1888

Fireplace surround 1910 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: furniture, Queensland black bean (Castanospermum australe)

Primary Insc: signed verso in orange chalk "R Prenzel"
Dimensions: 170.0 h x 188.3 w x 34.4 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1980
Accession No: NGA 80.3675

By 1900, Australian decorative arts and design reflected British and European design styles of the late 19th century, such as the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau. The emphasis on nature as subject matter, the expression of nationalism and regionalism and the return to handcraft values in these styles found favour with designers and craft practitioners seeking to celebrate Australia’s unique flora and fauna with the advent of Federation.

Australia’s most celebrated carver of the Federation period, Robert Prenzel, undertook a cabinet-making apprenticeship and study of woodcarving in Europe before travelling in 1888 to Melbourne, where he set up business as a designer and carver of furniture and architectural fittings. Following his naturalisation in 1897, he began to incorporate Australian motifs into furniture and carved panels in a rich regional variation of European Art Nouveau, with its emphasis on sinuous natural forms and exotic materials. His repertoire of traditional woodcarving skills formed the basis for work in Australia that celebrated native woods, flora and fauna and can be seen in this fireplace surround, part of a larger, commissioned suite of related furniture.

Robert Bell

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002