The WMODA lecture programme on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California has inspired me to look more closely at Royal Doulton’s contribution to the glamorous thirties. Launched in 1934, the Queen Mary was the largest and fastest liner of her time as well as the epitome of ocean-going sophistication. Her strong curves and geometric forms represent the elegance, function and modernity of Art Deco design in the age of speed and luxury travel.
All that Jazz
The roaring twenties were a period of economic prosperity in major cities such as London, Paris and New York. Pleasure-seeking flappers expressed their new found freedoms after the First World War and women won the right to vote in most major countries. Jazz music was all the rage and the wider use of automobiles, telephones and other technological advances influenced the modern lifestyle of the 1930s. Hollywood’s motion picture industry created a celebrity culture of movie stars, many of whom traveled on the Queen Mary.
The Queen Mary made her maiden voyage across the Atlantic from Southampton to New York in 1936. According to Cunard’s advertising slogan, “Getting there is half the fun” and travelers could enjoy the journey as much as the destination. For first class passengers the experience was somewhere between being a guest in a grand stately home and staying in one of the world’s finest hotels. Tickets cost around $4,000 which is the equivalent of $95,000 in today’s currency.
On the Queen Mary voyages, the richest, grandest and most famous people in the world dined together and engaged in various social and sporting activities. The tantalizing prospect of rubbing shoulders with royalty or matinee idols added to Cunard’s glamorous appeal. You might meet the Duke and Duchess of Windsor promenading along the decks or spot Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Alfred Hitchcock or Walt Disney at a cocktail party.
Glitz & Glamour
Royal Doulton recreated the glitz and glamour of these floating parties with elegant figurines by Leslie Harradine, notably Rhythm and Aileen. Other designs of the 1930s, such as Clothilde and The Mirror, capture the ambience of the cabin-class staterooms while the Bather and the Swimmer would have made a splash in either of the Queen Mary’s swimming pools. Sculptures of scantily draped or fully nude young women were very popular during the Art Deco era and Harradine responded with a series of nubile young ladies, including Celia, Dawn and The Awakening, artistically draped with diaphanous fabrics.
These seductive figurines were influenced by the work of Richard Garbe, Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, who created Royal Doulton’s first limited edition figures in the 1930s. His studies of Spring and Salome were inspired by his original ivory carvings and produced in ivory glaze or tinted green. Garbe also designed some striking wall masks for Doulton which were offered in ivory, green and gold. The vogue for hanging masks of female faces was at its peak in the Art Deco era and Royal Doulton responded to this new taste in home décor with masks portraying Hollywood movie stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Art and Industry
Richard Garbe’s work for Royal Doulton was shown at the British Art and Industry exhibition held at the Royal Academy in 1935. The relationship between art and industry was under review during this period and contemporary painters and sculptors were asked to help improve the quality of British design and manufactures. Royal Doulton had close connections with several established artists outside the ceramic industry, encouraged by their enlightened art directors C.J. Noke in Burslem and J. H. Mott in Lambeth.
One of Doulton’s longest relationships was with the sculptor Gilbert Bayes, who is best known for the Queen of Time clock erected above the entrance of Selfridge’s store in London in 1931. Bayes was responsible for the frieze on front of Doulton House in Lambeth entitled Pottery through the Ages and he exhibited several of his Doulton stoneware fountains and panels at the 1935 Royal Academy exhibition. A cast of his bronze sculpture of the Sea King’s Daughter was commissioned for the Queen Mary and he collaborated on one of the most impressive artworks on board the liner, an enormous carved gesso panel depicting Unicorns in Battle for the main cabin-class lounge. He also designed the commemorative medal for the Queen Mary.
Several distinguished artists of the period worked with Charles Noke at the Burslem Studio. The painter Sir Frank Brangwyn designed a collection of tableware and Reco Capey, Professor of Design at the Royal College of Art, created vases and boxes for production at both the Burslem and Lambeth factories. Royal Doulton’s studio of women painting pottery during the Art Deco era was presented as “A Beautiful Industry” by the artist Charles E. Turner, who also illustrated RMS Queen Mary for a postcard. Stylized, abstract motifs crept into a variety of Royal Doulton vase designs of the 1930s, which were hailed in the catalogs as “New Style”. A streamlined Art Moderne style emerged in design and architecture, stripping Art Deco of its ornament and emphasizing aerodynamic curves, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements.
Queen of the Seas
Noke’s new work during the 1930s included a series of limited edition loving cups and jugs, which were vigorously modeled in low relief and painted in glowing underglaze colours. Many of these prestige pieces were used to commemorate royal events of the period and feature portraits of the monarchs emblazoned with flags and regalia. The silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary was marked with a limited edition loving cup in 1935 and there were no less than three loving cups produced for the coronation of King Edward VIII, who was never crowned. However, as King he did tour RMS Queen Mary on the day before its maiden voyage on May 25th 1936 and he was a regular traveler as the Duke of Windsor following his abdication. Queen Mary, after whom the vessel was named, never sailed on her namesake although she officiated at the launch and toured the finished ship with her sons King Edward and the future King George VI along with her grand-daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth, the current monarch. Apparently the young princesses enjoyed watching a Mickey Mouse film in the cinema. Queen Mary remained a fan of Royal Doulton wares from her factory visit in 1913, when she named Darling HN1, to her shopping trips at the British Industries Fairs of the 1920s.
The Grey Ghost
In 1939, just 3 ½ years after the Queen Mary’s maiden voyage I, war broke out in Europe and she was painted battle-ship grey for military service. More than 15,000 troops were crowded on board for each journey to the arenas of war – there were even tiers of bunk beds in the swimming pool! Hitler offered a $250,000 reward to any submarine that could sink the “grey ghost” as she was known. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister made the dangerous transatlantic crossing in 1943 as part of a war time delegation and became a frequent Queen Mary traveler in peace time. Today there’s a suite and restaurant named for him on board and currently an exhibition of his artwork. Tribute was paid to Churchill in 1940 as part of Royal Doulton’s new character jug collection, which was Noke’s last design innovation of the 1930s.
RMS Queen Mary enjoyed more golden years after the war but eventually she could not compete with air travel. In 1958 the first Boeing 707 jets began regular services over the Atlantic. Instead of six or seven days, sophisticates could now do the journey in as many hours. After her final voyage the Queen Mary was moored in Long Beach in 1967, where she continues to host elegant events, such as Seaway China’s weekend party with Michael Doulton in September. Nowadays cruising is mainly for pleasure and over the years Royal Doulton collectors have enjoyed trans-Atlantic crossings and tropical tours on the Cunard Queens and other great ships, organized by Pascoe & Company.
On January 23rd, 2017, a party of collectors will be cruising from Miami on a 10 day Caribbean cruise on board the Oceana Riviera. This luxury ship has been described as a floating art museum and on this cruise Royal Doulton and the ceramic arts will be the main feature of the Seminars at Sea program hosted by Louise Irvine. For further details contact Pascoe & Company 305.326.0060 firstname.lastname@example.org