‘Art Deco’ was an international style that dominated architecture and the decorative
arts from about 1925 until the start of the Second World War in 1939. Elements of
the art deco style continued into the 1950s and there have been significant revivals
of interest in art deco-influenced design in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Like its
predecessor, Art Nouveau, art deco’s impact has been primarily on the decorative
arts including architecture, interior and industrial design, fashion design and the
graphic arts. As such, art deco’s influence has been very important in the ceramics
industry, fundamentally changing accepted concepts of both shape and decoration.
The origins of ‘art deco’ style are said to lie with the group of French artists
known as La Société des artistes décorateurs formed shortly after the Universal Exposition
[held in Paris] in 1900. The group’s purpose was to promote the superiority of French
decorative arts, and it culminated in the organisation of the now famous Exposition
Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition
of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art) in Paris in 1925.
Art deco style is acknowledged as an amalgam of many different decorative influences
including neo-classical elements, cubism, art nouveau and many others. In its original
conception, as seen in the furniture and object d’Art at the 1925 exhibition, it
was a style that was rich and opulent, but at the same time elegant and above all
Characteristic of art deco, and seen widely in art deco ceramics, is the use of geometric
shapes. Stepped forms, the ziggurat and pyramid, derived from Aztec and Egyptian
culture are common. Motifs widely used in art deco decoration include stylized representations
of the rising or setting sun, the chevon, and geometric patterns based on repeated
lines and overlapping rectangular shapes. Stylised floral decoration is common on
ceramics, but differs radically in style from that of art nouveau.
Art deco had a significant impact on the UK ceramics industry beginning with the
startling and paradigm-breaking work of Clarice Cliff from 1928. Cliff is believed
to have visited the 1925 exhibition, and there are hints of what was to come in earlier
pottery decoration by the designer and decorator John Guildford of Barker Bros.
Newport Pottery Co. Ltd
This ‘Conical’ shape cup with a solid triangular handle was modelled by Clarice Cliff
in what is now recognised as the geometric Art Deco style. It was a radical departure
from conventional teaware design. The pattern is ‘Bignou’ part of the Bizzare range.
A bone china ‘Mode’ trio designed by Eric Slater for the Shelley Potteries. Clearly
imitative of the Clarice Cliff ‘Conical’ shape, this was sophisticated teaware aimed
at a more affluent market looking for the latest in modern style. 1934.
A Royal Albert’ Art Deco-style trio in the ‘Belmont’ pattern. This bone china trio
produced in the mid-1930s combines classical and modern features and would appeal
to those looking for modern, but not too radical design.