The Art of Royal Doulton Figurines - WMODA | Wiener Museum

The Art of Royal Doulton Figurines

This exhibition traces the evolution of Royal Doulton figurines during the last century, beginning in the 1890s with the first figurines made at their studios in London and Stoke-on-Trent. Each clay original model was blocked and cased for the production process by a master mold-maker. The figures were slip-cast in earthenware or bone china clay using plaster of Paris production molds taken from the case. A photograph of each figure with its mold number was recorded in a ledger now retained in the Royal Doulton archives. Different color decorations were allocated HN numbers, named after the head artist, Harry Nixon, who taught the first figure painters. They achieved subtle color effects by repeated painting, fusing and firings of enamel colors. The HN number was originally hand-painted on the base of the figure alongside the impressed mold number and the Royal Doulton trademark.

Prototypes

In the Royal Doulton production process, the first figures to be cast from the block or master-mold are known as prototypes. Typically, no more than three figures were taken from the master as the detail diminished with each casting and the block had to be in good condition to make the case and production molds if the figure was approved. The reasons that prototypes did not go into production are varied. With complex and detailed models, the production costs were often too high for the pricing policies of the time. Sometimes management anticipated production problems during the kiln firing or shipping. Occasionally, the art director felt that there were duplications of subject matter in the range or that the model was not good enough. When Royal Doulton began selling their archive collection in the late 1990s, many of their prototype figures were sold to collectors at auctions and private sales.

The First Figurines

Figures in terracotta and stoneware were sculpted by artists at Doulton’s Lambeth studio in London during the 19th century. George Tinworth is famous for his Merry Musicians series while John Broad excelled in classical subjects. Brown salt-glazed stoneware was gradually replaced with lighter bodies in the early 1900s, including Carrara ware and white porcelain. At Doulton’s Burslem studio in Stoke-on-Trent, Charles Noke began reviving the art of Staffordshire figures in the 1890s. His ivory colored Vellum figures of famous Victorian actors were decorated initially with pastel shades of pink and green. Experiments with stronger colors followed but commercial success came ultimately with the development of the HN collection. The company received the royal warrant in 1901 and the privilege of the name Royal Doulton.

Launch of the HN Collection

Charles Noke began trials for a new series of figures in 1910, assisted by Harry Tittensor, a versatile painter and modeler at the Burslem studio. Distinguished sculptors were invited to visit the Burslem factory and submit ideas for figurative sculptures. Their original clay models were reproduced for the new HN collection which was launched in 1913 during a royal visit to the factory. Queen Mary named the first figure Darling and became a keen collector. Among the early contributors to the HN collection were Royal Academy exhibitors such as Phoebe Stabler, William White and Charles Vyse, formerly a Doulton apprentice. Charles Noke also modeled some figures for his new collection, including long-term classics such as The Jester. World War One, which raged from 1914 to 1918, interrupted figure production.

The Vogue of the Statuette

Leslie Harradine began modeling for the HN collection in 1920, following his earlier career at Doulton’s Lambeth factory. His versatility as a modeler was exceptional. He created Jazz Age style figurines alongside nostalgic figurines in Victorian crinolines. He was equally skilled at portraying robust characters, such as his street sellers from old London. Harradine’s work was included at the British Industries Fair in 1920 at the Crystal Palace where the press heralded “The Vogue of the Statuette.” Harradine continued his success at the Paris exhibition of 1925 where he won a silver medal. Such was the demand for his Art Deco style figurines that the figure painting department was expanded to ten artists in 1927. By the end of the 1930s, there were 27 figure painters decorating the most popular figurines in alternative color schemes. For over 30 years, Harradine sent his original clay models from his rural studios to the Burslem factory.

Perfection in Porcelain

War broke out again in 1939 and the Burslem factory was the first British pottery to be bombed. Undeterred, Noke set up a studio in his garden shed and worked with his new assistant Peggy Davies. When Noke died in 1941 his son, Cecil Jack, took over as Art Director. The upheavals of the war interrupted Harradine’s workflow and resulted in several prototype models. Peggy Davies returned to Royal Doulton in 1947 and tackled ambitious figure subjects, some of which did not get beyond the prototype stage. As a child, Peggy aspired to be a ballerina but her artistic talents prevailed. From ballet to ballroom, dance was often an inspiration for her figurines. Peggy contributed to the HN collection until 1983 and was responsible for some of Royal Doulton’s most famous limited edition collections, which often portray famous women in history.

Full of Character

Mary Nicoll was Doulton’s leading modeler of character figures from 1954 until her untimely death at the age of 52 in 1974. She was a very versatile artist, with a discerning eye for detail. She was best known for her maritime figures and her studies of endearing old folk, often with their pets. Mary was so prolific that many of her models did not go into production during her lifetime. Some of her original designs were issued in collectors editions many years after her death. The experienced sculptor, Bill Harper, was commissioned to continue the character figure tradition and modeled hundreds of designs during his 30 years with the company. Robert Tabbenor and Doug Tootle also contributed to the character figure collection. Decisions about future introductions were determined at Doulton’s design conferences and public opinion was solicited at design survey events in the USA.

The New Sculpture Studio

Eric Griffiths became Royal Doulton’s Director of Sculpture in 1974 and brought new ideas to the HN collection. He experimented with figures in modern dress, such as mini-skirts and blue jeans, but they remained as prototypes. Generally, he advocated taller figures and matt glazes, which be felt brought more character to the features. Peter Gee, Pauline Parsons and Valerie Annand developed the figurine collection in new design directions. Many of Valerie’s designs were considered too flamboyant for production. One of the most talented artists in the studio was Alan Maslankowski, who was working on a dramatic bust of Elvis Presley when he died. Tim Potts capitalized on the interest in Elvis to produce a set of portrait figures, which were made in Thailand when Doulton’s production began moving offshore in the 1990s.

Innovations & Experiments

Over the years, there have been many initiatives to create a new look for Doulton’s HN collection, some of which have not been developed beyond the prototype stage. Tim Potts modeled figures of sporting heroes, which were tested by the prototype painters in different glaze effects, including Doulton’s distinctive rouge flambé. At the dawn of the new Millennium, the Royal Doulton artists were experimenting with highly stylized figures from the Images, Reflections, Sensual and Studio collections. They were decorated with lustrous mother of pearl, bronze, gold and platinum glaze effects. When Royal Doulton began selling their archive collection at auction in 1999, many unique prototypes were acquired by Arthur Wiener. WMODA now has a vast Royal Doulton figure collection celebrating a century of production.