The porcelain figures made between the wars in continental Europe were greatly influenced by art deco in general and by bronzes and chryselephantine sculptures in particular.
The modern woman of the 1920s and 1930s had her own ideas about interior design. She got rid of all the ornate bits and pieces so cherished by her mother and grandmother and set out to create a clean, uncluttered look. Some sort of decoration was essential, though, and was usually provided by one or two tasteful china ornaments in a contemporary style. Figurines were particularly favoured, and often took pride of place on a dressing table or mantelpiece.
The graceful, athletic figures in ivory and bronze made by sculptors such as Ferdinand Preiss were the height of art deco chic. They were the envy of china figurine makers throughout Europe, who tried, with varying degrees of success, to emulate them.
Goldscheider of Vienna and Royal Dux of Czechoslovakia got closest to the ideal. Goldscheider were well known for their bathing belles, their fashionable ladies and re-creations of famous bronzes such as Bat Dancer, which was also known as Butterfly Girl, depending on the shape and colour of her wings. Royal Dux also produced a considerable number of dancers, flappers, nudes and
semi-nudes and couples doing the tango.
LIGHT AND FRAGILE
While their bronze counterparts could leap and prance with relative impunity, china figures were lighter and more fragile, so needed to be given greater stability if they were to withstand the rigours of life on the mantelpiece; a careless flick of the duster could permanently lame a pirouetting china figurine.
It was not always easy to give a figure a stabilising broad bottom or base yet still keep within the limits of deco style. While a
Victorian figurine in a nice wide crinoline or flowing ankle-length skirt had no problems remaining upright, her art deco equivalents needed to be cunningly designed to keep them on their feet. Plinths or seating arrangements were
often incorporated into figures.
Figure subjects were enormously varied, and some were adapted for use as lamps and bottles. Traditional Pierrots and Columbines continued to be popular, the Orient was in vogue and dancing figures and undraped bathers were everywhere.
These stylish, often expensive products of European factories quickly found a ready market in Britain. They were imported in some numbers until supplies ceased abruptly with the outbreak of World War 2.
Deco figurines, their subjects ranging from the exotic to the everyday and from the relentlessly modern to the nostalgic, look good displayed on their own or grouped in a cabinet of the period.
ART DECO FIGURINE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The highest prices are paid for figures in a deco style from a famous factory. If you're beginning to build up a collection, you'll be better off concentrating on the other end of
the market. Pieces that can't be definitely attributed still convey the vitality and charm of
the period, and are much more reasonably priced. A good general rule is to buy any item that appeals to you, if the price is right.
Specializing in a particular factory can be fraught with difficulty. Some manufacturers kept records of their lines and some didn't, while many records were lost in World War 2.
As a result, experts can be hazy about the full range of production of even famous factories such as Goldscheider and Royal Dux, though information is slowly being pieced together.
Nevertheless, it's a good idea to study the subject before going hunting. It's best not to go to an auction or dealer without some knowledge. At the same time, 1920s and 1930s figurines may still turn up at car boot sales or even jumble sales; a little expertise may well help you discover a real prize.
Most figurines will carry some kind of mark on the base. Some of them are distinctive, like the Royal Dux mark or Katzhijtte's picture of a cat in a house. There may, though, just be a stamp showing the country of origin or a number; this may be the catalogue number of a model or the serial number of the individual piece. Some marks can be cryptic, and cause confusion even to a dealer; a name on the base may be that of a painter, a factory, a sculptor, a shop or even of the figure itself.
CARE AND ATTENTION
Always check pieces carefully for faults in manufacture or damage, particularly to limbs, fingers, bases, hats, heads, fashion details and draperies. Don't worry too much about small chips or repairs, but make sure the price takes them into account. Keep your best pieces in a display cabinet. They won't need to be dusted so often, which cuts down the possibility of breakages. Dirty or discoloured items can be washed carefully in warm, soapy water; never use dishwashers or abrasive materials.
Read articles and references:
Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks
& Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).