The market place for decorative pottery in the first few decades of the 20th century was a crowded place, invigorated – as it was – by commercial concerns jostling for a slice of the retail opportunities afforded to them throughout the course of the Art Deco period.
The notion of ‘art for the masses’ had grown throughout these years, with designs more conscious of form rather than function being increasingly to the fore. It became evident to anyone with any sort of financial acumen that propagating this demand to as wide an audience as possible would be a shrewd move if successfully accomplished. A number of businesses chose to take the gamble, and hence we find the likes of Poole Pottery, Ruskins, Wemyss, A J Richardson, Royal Doulton and – of course – Moorcroft staking a claim for their share.
Designs, for the most part, were something of a hybrid, drawing on the naturalistic motifs of Art Nouveau – now firmly established in the public consciousness – alongside the contemporary presentation and innovative production techniques of the Deco movement, with some additional flair and panache for good measure. Take your stylised floral compositions of lilies, trailing vines and slightly abstract tadpoles - and put them on a vase using tube-lining. With Wemyss and – particularly - Claris Cliff, methods were more conventional, but the bold, strident use of colour and shape made for confident pieces, the smallest of which made quite a statement. The Poole Pottery toyed with a similar palette of vibrant colours, encouraged by Truda Carter, but it seems that – with a few gaudy exceptions – the paintresses on the Dorset coast stepped back from the brink of going down a similar route with wholly unfettered abandon.
Outside of the UK there were similar machinations afoot on continental Europe, notably in The Netherlands at Arnhem and Gouda. Here – in the early years of the 20th century – there were many excellent pieces made which illustrated growing momentum of the shift from ‘classical’ Art Nouveau forms to increasingly unconventional wares via the use of bold, highlight colours amidst more subdued tones, combined with innovative shapes and forms. These Dutch pieces are not dissimilar to the work which William Moorcroft was designing whilst at McIntyre’s, and certainly bear a likeness to later items made under his own name. The Keralouve Catteau/Boch Kermais outturn from manufactories in La Louviere, Belgium also featured some striking examples of contemporary ceramics – when they chose to stray away from their rather less inspiring stock-in trade of animal motifs and Grecian designs.