Puttin’ on the ritz – Royal Doulton in the 1920’s and 30’s (Part 1 – Figures)

 Puttin’ on the ritz – Part 1 – Royal Doulton Figures from the deco period


When one thinks of Doulton one automatically pictures Doulton figures in one’s mind’s eye, and that is where I will begin today. Amongst the most popular figures ever produced at Burslem are the creations of Arthur Leslie Harradine (shown here relaxing at home with his wife. Behind her you can see a cabinet of white figures sent to him for approval).


Apprenticed to Doulton at the beginning of the 20th Century, he began working for them once again on a freelance basis after WWI. His first creations for the HN range coincide with the dawn of the 1920’s and also the beginnings of the commercial success of Charles Noke’s revival of the long neglected production of Staffordshire china figures.

Charles Noke, Art Director at Doulton’s Burslem factory, had for the previous decade been determined to revive the production of china figures, and had approached many leading sculptors of the time such as Phoebe Stabler and Ernest Light, but ironically it was with the home-grown talent of Harradine that Noke’s range was to be acclaimed as the pinnacle of china figure production in England and around the world.

Harradine’s first figure introduced to the HN range is this rather stylish lady titled ‘The Princess’ from 1920.


Here at once we have a glimpse into Harradine’s ability to interpret trends of the time,  you can see it closely resembles this illustration by Leon Bakst for a costume for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. This tremendous ability to interpret images into pottery also brings us a typical 1920’s Harradine figure, The Bather, taken from this Cyclax advert from the time.

endpapers cyclax advert

This latter figure really illustrates what Harradine brought to the HN range that differed from his predecessors: a smaller size of figure, with a less sculptural feel and decorated with an array of dazzling colours. Three things that were to shape the future of the HN range up until today. As you can see from these instantly recognisable figures, Harradine achieved what others had failed to do, and so we have here a selection of what we can term typical Harradine figures all introduced during the 1920’s.


The 20’s saw re-newed freedom for women and this too is reflected in the HN range. Consider Miss 1926 with her Eton crop or nude figures of the time, Carnival and Circe (HN1249 below).


However, it was not so much the social changes that defined the era but the emergence of a new phenomena, the so-called Flapper, a term for girls who were shortening their skirts, bobbing their hair, wearing makeup, smoking and drinking and going out with young men without chaperones. Another such ‘it’  girl to be introduced was Dulcinea shown here in her fantastic fringed dress and her bolero hat.


Fashions of the time played a hugely important role in inspiring Harradine’s figures. Here you can see the Hunts Lady in her stylish hunting garb and a contemporary advert for the same.


Consider too the figures Gloria and Clothilde , which come straight out of 20’s fashion magazines. A further slide I would like to share here is this one of the inspiration behind Harradine’s figure Carmen.


Clearly Harradine had many sources from which to draw and here we also have a glimpse of a figure taken from a contemporary greetings card designed by Jennie Harbour. The use of greetings card illustrations became the norm in the 1930’s.

New past times too played a part in influencing the range – take for example Sunshine Girl illustrated here who was doubtless inspired by a contemporary advert for the Dunes Beaches in Chicago. Here are the two original Sunshine Girl colourways.


Doulton’s group of 1920’s figures really did set them apart from their competitors, such a Worcester, who continued to draw inspiration from traditional subjects for figures such as Water carriers and other Grecian style figures, whilst the Doulton range forged a new path in figure production, creating a bevy of 20’s flappers and ‘It’ girls of the day.

One only has to take a cursory glance at the HN collection from the 1920’s to see from where these draw their inspiration. The theatre clearly played an important role as ‘the’ pastime of the era. Figures with a theatrical background include  Harlequinade, Pierette and Columbine.


All three take their names from the Comedia dell’ Arte where the traditional Pierot character is portrayed as a sad figure pining for the love of Columbine who runs away with Harlequin. Whilst the origins of the names of these figures hark back to an earlier time, nothing about them can be said to do the same. Their costumes reflect the renewed interest in the 1920’s in Masquerade Balls and here is another example!


Male characters too were represented in the  art deco HN range, consider this Yeoman of the Guard seen here, who was made as a pair to A Chelsea Pensioner, both introduced in the mid-20’s. Neith of these can be said to be ‘modern’ yet both are clearly modelled on their namesakes!


Whilst the Yeoman above may simply be represented as a warder of the Tower of London, his appearance may also be explained by the ongoing popularity of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas from the late 19th Century.

Leslie Harradine was also responsible for the first set of figures to be introduced, The Beggar’s Opera Series, again inspired by the theatre. Harradine’s figures all closely resemble the costume designs of Claude Lovatt Fraser the designer for the revival of this piece at Hammersmith, London in 1920. Once made up the costumes were thrown to the studio floor and walked on, had paint thrown on them, and where necessary as with the Beggar’s costume, were then slashed and dirtied. Lovat Fraser reasoned that the characters from the play were from 18th Century London low life and spent much of their time in jail.


Above is the original Captain  Macheath figure compared with the original theatre poster and Lovat Fraser’s design and here is  Polly Peachum in two versions both by Harradine, shown against Lovat Fraser’s original Design.

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This first series of figures set the tone for future sets by teaming a popular English theme with an emerging Doulton house style. The series proved a huge success and in Doulton’s first official publicity catalogue after WWII, they themselves lament the withdrawal of this popular set! The main female character is also immortalised in a miniature version, and incidentally more colour variations of this one miniature figure exist than any other! Here you can see three miniatures I have come across.


The Beggar’s Opera series was closely followed by six characters from the ever popular work of Charles Dickens . Noke had already introduced the popular Dickens seriesware pattern based upon these same characters and others, which had gained praise from even Dickens’ son Alfred Tennyson Dickens back in 1911. This letter from Dickens’ son was often used in Doulton publicity of the time.


(Interestingly he was named after his godfathers, one of whom was the great Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was Poet Laureate to England’s Queen Victoria for most of her reign.) Below you can see a slide showing Harradines original stoneware models for the miniature Dickens range that was introduced.

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The 1920’s marked the introduction of what we can term the first advertising figures too. Here we have the Sketch Girl pictured against the magazine she is advertising.


The figure Miss Sketch appeared on the cover of that popular magazine, a pedlar figure carrying on her tray mini figures representing the varied topics covered by the magazine, a ballerina for the theatre; a jockey for sport; a cupid for love stories; a soldier for current affairs; and the devil well I will leave you to decide upon…..

In addition we have The Perfect Pair, a figure that is not widely recognized as an advertising figure, but which in fact represents the union of two great British magazines, Eve and The Tatler in one publishing house. Interestingly this advert was designed by Mabel Lucie Atwell in 1923.


All walks of life were catered for and below you can see a particularly unusual little chap, known to us as Steve. He was created in the likeness of one of the yard men, for Wettern, Beadle and Bristowe Road Builders. Occasionally he does turn up without the added lettering around his base.


Advertising figures for the perfumiers Grossmiths were also produced. Here you can see The Old English Lavender Figure  , together with a Yardley’s advert.


A final advertising figure I would like to draw to your attention is one of my absolute personal favorites,  Tsang Ihang, and an advert for the perfume she is promoting.


The ‘inspirational’ advert for the figure remained elusive until very recently and I was thrilled to discover it just a few years ago. As with all things we search for assiduously when you find one, another promptly turns up as happened in this instance to me!

Tsang Ihang Advert

One final figure which must be mentioned here as a child of the 1920’s is this, perhaps the most iconic of all Doulton figures The Old Balloon Seller HN1315 introduced in 1929.


Whilst not the first Street Seller in the HN range her enduring popularity, even now over a decade out of production has ensured her status as possibly the most immediately recognisable of all Doulton figures. Yet she, and her predecessors such as The Flower Seller all owe some thanks to another great sculptor of the time, Charles Vyse. Vyse was of course the creator of this  delightful figure, Darling HN1, and I am sure Harradine took inspiration for his street seller figures from Vyse.

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You can see immediately how Vyse’s Balloon Lady morphed into Doulton’s own interpretation by Harradine. And again  with Vyse’s Wild Flowers and Harradine’s Sweet Lavender. A further example illustrated below is this Vyse figure and Harradine’s Bridget.


Vyse in turn took inspiration from the many street sellers that were still to be seen in London street life in the early 20th Century, like the lady in the illustration below. The Old Balloon Seller was succeeded by many other street sellers in the 1930’s and another personal favourite of mine is this,  Primroses which closely resembles this Margaret Tarrant illustration.

Picture1 FIG-Primroses-HN1617

And so we come to the end of this section exporing Doulton’s deco  figure delights.

Next time we will look at Doulton’s deco Burslem wares!

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