A Beginner’s Guide to Art Deco China

Art Deco is geometric, angular and streamlined and the colours are usually bold and dramatic. The Art Deco style was applied to decorative art as well as architecture. Art Deco is associated with luxury, style and high living.

First seen at the international exhibition in Paris in 1925 Art Deco was in vougue during the 1920s and 1930s and was a great inspiration to British ceramicists.  Art Deco ceramics were extremely popular.  Their bright, colourful design brought a sense of fun and contemporary style to the home.  The First World War had changed women’s position in society and many of them were keen to support the newly emerging female designers, such as Clarice Cliff, Charlotte Rhead and Susie Cooper.

For the collector the choices are endless – you can collect by shape, by factory, by designer, by colour, by motif or by year.  Clarice Cliff’s design made at the A J Wilkinson factory were avidly collected with the new Bizarre range being especially popular.  Apart from being a surface designer Clarice had also trained as a modeller and she was interested in developing glazes.  The combination of these three makes her designs so interesting.  While Clarice Cliff pottery can be very expensive there are affordable pieces to be had.  Crocus was made from 1928 to 1964 and is one of the most affordable, while Honolulu was only made for about a year and is difficult to find and expensive.

Art Deco caught on very quickly and soon most manufacturers had a handful of colourful geometric designs in their collection.  Shelley Pottery launched several new ranges: Vogue and Mode in 1930, Eve and Regent in 1932 and Oxford in 1934.  Shelley’s pieces have a fine bone china body which was unmatched by any other ceramic manufacturer.

Shelley is famous for its advertising campaign featuring the instantly recognisable Shelley Girl.  This figurine could be seen in many china shop windows during the late 1920s and early 1930s and is now very collectable.  One was sold at auction in the autumn of 2008  for £4,000 and even a damaged one can still fetch £1,600.

Susie Cooper established her own pottery in 1929 where she produced some geometric patterns.  A partnership with Woods and Sons from 1931 enabled her to control shape manufacture too.   Her abstract cubism-inspired designs using blocks of colour are particularly stunning.  The leeping deer was one of the iconic images of Art Deco style and it was used by many potters, including Poole.  Susie Cooper used it and it became part of her backstamp from 1932 until the 1950s.

Royal Doulton also embraced Art Deco and developed distinctive shapes for both tableware and earthenware ranges, such as Fairy, Casino, Dandy and Embassy, but the best known are probably Tango, Syren, Gaylee and Eden.

While Charlotte Rhead was less famous than Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper her work is still highly sought after.  She worked for Burgess and Leigh, makers of Burleigh Ware from 1926 to 1931 and A G Richardson (Crown Ducal) from 1932 to 1942.  At Burgess and Leigh her work included designs with Art Deco influences such as geometrics and stylised flowers while  at Ducal she developed new glazes.

Among other potters of the era were Carlton Ware with its lustre and oriental-inspired wares and Art Deco table wares.  Myott also adopted the Art Deco style and produced tableware, striking vases, plaques and jugs.  During the 1940s Myott started to manufacture figures for Marcel Goldschneider, an Austrian who had fled to Britain at the outbreak of war.  Many of Goldschneider’s figures and wall masks produced in the 1920s and 1930s were in the Art Deco style.

Most potteries during the 1920s and 1930s produced Art Deco designs and some are better than others and there is a wealth of Art Deco to collect.  The Auction houses tell us that interest in Art Deco remains strong and prices for the rarest  and most luxurious pieces remain high, although prices at the lower end of the market are not what they were – a perfect opportunity for the new collector.  There are bargains to be had!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *