Themes and inspirations
Free-standing Art Deco figures were less commonly made in Britain than on the Continent because they were expensive to produce. However, Doulton, produced some very good quality and well modelled figures, as did Minton with the Bather, modelled by Doris Lindner. Figurative subjects were also used to great effect on plates and ceramics with flat surfaces including the running Leipzig Girl made at the Poole Pottery and the three-sided lamp base with its Clown decoration by Susie Cooper.
Land and seascapes figure largely as subject matter on British Art Deco ceramics, possibly because they are easily adapted to most pot shapes. Clarice Cliff probably used them more than any other designer in the 1920s and '30s. Her designs have a certain British cosiness about them, but by combining them with sharply Continental shapes and vibrant hand-painted decorations, she gave them great vitality.
Other designers such as Donald Gilbert at Denby gave the subjects a more abstract feel, whilst Crown Devon embraced the fairy-tale elements of landscapes with sumptuous patterns, colour and gilded decoration.
African art was influential in the evolution of Art Deco. Ceramic face masks, now closely associated with the 1920s and '30s, were possibly inspired by the African wooden masks imported into Britain at the time. Some ceramic manufacturers modelled masks on famous film stars such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Other factories such as J H Cope and John Beswick produced masks of fashionable young women often wearing jewellery and stylish hats.
Not all the masks were of women; Susie Cooper portrayed a Judge and a Chinaman. Clarice Cliff even produced a mask of the mythological god, Pan. Later on in the 1930s some of the masks were also made with a reservoir to contain water and flowers. All these masks would have looked stylish and modern in a British home between the Wars.
Animal subjects are frequently part of the language of British Art Deco ceramics, either as standing figures or decorative motifs. These include exotic species such as gazelles and antelopes from African art, as well as more homely but similarly elegant and streamlined animals like deer. There is a strong contrast between John Skeaping's animal forms, simplified to their sculptural essence, and a set of typical flying ducks which enjoyed mass popularity. There were many different approaches to capturing the essence of animals, from the comic to the stylish.
Fruit and flowers have been the mainstay of English ceramic decoration for hundreds of years. These were subjects with a ready appeal and the English country garden had a wealth of inspiration for designers in the 1920s and '30s. Easily accessible, most people in Britain would have possessed something decorated with flowers. Whether it was a coffee set by Crown Ducal with its economical and banded Red Tree pattern, or a hand-painted vase by Radford, they would have cheered up many a British home. From the factories' point of view, fruit and flowers were very appealing as subjects as they lent themselves easily to ceramic decoration.