Arthur Fleischmann, born in 1896 in Bratislavia, had a fascinating life that included a decade spent in Sydney. He studied medicine in Budapest before deciding to become a sculptor. Forced to flee Europe in 1937, he spent two years in Bali before arriving in Australia in 1939.
Bali was a period of inspiration and transformation. Balinese culture and art became an influence for the rest of his life. While there he also converted from Judaism to Catholicism.
While based in Sydney he formed an artistic community called the Merioola Group, named after the house he shared in Rosemount Avenue in Woollahra.
This was a productive period for Fleischmann. Perhaps his most memorable Sydney work is the I Wish sculpture in the Royal Botanic Gardens, erected in 1946 on the site of the first Wishing Tree. Cast in pink concrete, this piece was commissioned by winemaker Leo Buring.
He was also commissioned to create portrait sculptures of Cardinal Gilroy and Lord Gowrie, among others. The elaborate bronze doors in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of NSW were also designed by Fleischmann.
What happened to the rest of his Australian work remained a mystery until relatively recently. Before he left for London in 1948 he asked a friend to place a series of bronze sculptures in storage until he could raise enough money to pay for shipping costs to England.
That never happened. The sculptures remained in storage until after Fleischmann's death in 1990. Now his estate has agreed that they should be sold through Shapiro Auctioneers in Sydney on May 17.
There are 21 figural bronzes with estimates ranging from $2000 to $7000. These are from his early modernist period, created in the 1930s and 1940s. Some show the influence of his Balinese period.
Fleischmann was based in London for the rest of his life but continued to visit Australia and exhibit at galleries here. In England he began to work in the new medium of Perspex in the mid-1950s. One of the sculptures from the Shapiro sale, Dawn, was later revised in this new medium. This sculpture has the highest estimates at $5000 to $7000.
As previously mentioned, sculpture is an undervalued category in the Australian secondary market, although there are indications that this medium is slowly taking off, especially for work in the modernist style.
Once based in in London, Fleishmann established a solid reputation and Shapiro is expecting some interest from sculpture collectors in the UK and Europe, at least among those who can afford the shipping costs.
Overseas he is known as the only artist to have sculpted four popes from life, although some would say his greatest claim to fame is his bust of Joan Collins.