DECO FIGURE LAMPS
Lively figurines, showing women dancing, leaping or diving, were combined with translucent lamp shades to form highly distinctive art deco table lamps.
If avant-garde designers had been allowed to have their way, figure lamps would have played no part at all in the art deco living room.
According to the austere modernist orthodoxy of the times, function and ornament were not supposed to be confused in whimsical combinations. This idea was largely a reaction against the art nouveau
Tiffany style lampshades that were covered with coloured-glass chameleons and dragonflies.
Designers felt, quite logically, that a lamp should light the room, not the lampshade.
The important thing was the quality of the light and the direction in which it was projected.
Lampshades, therefore, became globes or hemispheres of frosted or etched glass and these bowl-shapes were often inverted so that the bulb's beam would be reflected from the ceiling to give a softer, more diffused lighting effect, imbuing the room with light.
The designers' high principles were, however, submerged by consumer demand.
People liked the sensuous, ornamental female figures that were already popular as statuettes.
These figures were soon combined with coolly functional deco lampshades.
A huge number of figure lamps were produced.
These mass produced lamps had all the attractive and eye-catching qualities of the expensive brass figures of dancing nudes produced by contemporary Continental designers.
The female figures used in lamp designs were, for the most part, fairly static.
The majority of the high-kicking poses struck by art deco models and strikingly captured in statuettes were just a little too energetic and precarious to form a practical support for an electric light bulb.
Still, there were two fairly common poses a girl holding a hoop or playing with a beach ball in her outstretched hands - which were easily adapted to support a bulb socket, with a
light shade in the form of a glass globe.
Another popular pose, and one that has been used most often since art deco came back into fashion, was a kneeling nude supporting a globe of light on her lap.
Lamps in each of these three poses were generally sold in matching pairs for maximum effect.
Alabaster was one of the materials frequently used for lamps, and was often carved into the vaguely Egyptian forms that found their way into so much of the architecture of the 1920s as a result of the excitement generated by the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb.
A delightful deco lamp - whether genuine or repro can turn a corner of any room into a focus of interest.
Such are the violent swings of fashion that art deco lamps and figures, now so highly prized by collectors, were contemptuously dismissed in the 1950s as irredeemable kitsch, no more worthy of consideration by serious historians of art and taste than flying ducks on the wall.
The reasons for their fall from grace were probably as much political as aesthetic: they symbolized the frivolity of a thoughtless age.
A large proportion of the workshops producing the figures were in France and Germany and, as war loomed, their production came to a sudden halt.
Despite being produced such a short time ago, war and its aftermath have meant that these lamps are extremely poorly documented.
Few complete original lamps survive. A great number of lamps would have been thrown away and many more have been damaged. Although lamps were usually sold in pairs, it is rare to find a matching pair of genuine lamps on sale today.
The original glass shades were particularly vulnerable. You may, though, be lucky enough to find one that has been hidden away in someone's attic.
Many of the figure lamps sold today are reproductions, loosely based on original designs.
More than 90 per cent of the gilded ladies with globes on their knees are repro, for instance.
The question of authenticity in art deco figure lamps is particularly vexed.
The most durable part was almost always the base and it was there that most of the works were signed.
Works from the Preiss factory were marked 'PK' (for Preiss und Kassler), many also bearing the signature of Preiss himself.
However, with prices as high as they are, it is well worth an unscrupulous dealer's time to attach a reproduction to an original base.
Obvious signs that the figure has been recently attached to its pedestal may be glibly explained away as a repair job.
If collecting genuine art deco figure lamps is a field you want to move into, do your homework by studying authentic examples in museums and the shops of reliable dealers. Learn all you can about makers and styles.
On the other hand, if you are not a purist and are happy to settle for the effect of art deco, why not go for good repro lamps?