London Deco: Introduction

London Deco: Introduction

Art Deco Architecture In the UK capital

by Gregory Edwards

© 2015 Published by Hidden City Publishing at Shakespir

London Deco: Introduction

By Gregory Edwards

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Table of Contents

1. To Begin

2. Defining Art Deco

3. Why is London not regarded as an Art Deco city?

4. British Art Deco?

5. What Makes a Building Art Deco?

6. British Art Deco Artists and Designers



Furniture Designers


About Gregory Edwards

1. To Begin

Beginning back in the mid 1990s, the London Deco project grew out of a gradual attempt to catalogue the city’s countless manifestations of Art Deco architecture. A decade later it germinated in a series of photographic exhibitions on the subject, and a website that was up until 2012 from which some parts of this introduction have been taken.

Now three volumes of a series dedicated to specific themes have been published. The first, London Deco: Offices has mainly buildings from the centre of the city. The second has been divided into two parts: London Deco: Residences Part 1, Suburbia and London Deco: Residences Part 2, Central London. The intention of this series is to bring into focus the extensive number of mid-war buildings in the greater London area, and to show how various aspects of Art Deco have manifest themselves here. It aims to serve as a guide in discovering this hidden heritage, and in finding the many buildings that are still present in the city after nearly a century of change and development, as well as documenting some of those that have been lost. It also aims to present both precursors and contemporary architecture that show the influence of the style.

London is an immense metropolis, and the buildings created in the mid-war styles are not concentrated in any single part of it. They are spread far and wide in all directions. There are no easy signposts to indicate the extensive presence of Art Deco and early Modernist buildings to be found in its vast landscape. There are, however, a number of areas with greater concentrations of interesting mid-war period buildings in them that are well worth looking at. These include such areas as Surbiton, Brentford (Great West Road), Brixton, Streatham, Edgware Road, the University district and Soho/Oxford Street. This series will draw these far-flung buildings into concentrated themes where they may be given continuities and compared.

In conclusion, the sheer volume, and unique qualities, of many of the buildings shown in this series should convince the viewer that there is a unique British form of Art Deco, and that London is a good starting point to see it.

2. Defining Art Deco

Before considering the fascinating variety of London’s mid-war architecture, it is worth looking at the difficulty of defining Art Deco as a style. The problem is that unlike Neo-Classical, Gothic, Georgian or other such styles, ‘Art Deco’ is really a blanket term that encircles a time period rather than being a precise, definable style. To expand on this, it defines the collective effect of a profusion of styles and design ideas that evolved rapidly, and soon collided with one another in the time between the two World Wars. The term has now been broadly accepted as a style plurality of overlapping possibilities, but the problem remains as to what might be, and what definitely isn’t, Art Deco.

This question is critical to the assessment of London’s Art Deco architecture as London has never really been regarded as an Art Deco city in the way that New York or Paris have been. Perhaps this is because of the presence of other, more prominent and clearly defined styles visible here, or because the Art Deco that is here is so widely dispersed throughout the metropolis that one only catches glimpses of it. Depending on one’s personal perception, London has either a few Art Deco buildings, or hundreds of them.

Indeed, there are several important London buildings that are often mentioned in connection with Art Deco, absolutely guaranteed entries in any book on the subject. Wallis Gilbert & Partners’ futuristic Hoover factory is well known, as are Palladium House (the former Ideal Radiator Building) in Soho, Charles Holden’s Arnos Grove station and his London Transport offices at 55 Broadway, along with BBC Broadcasting House off Regent Street, the OXO tower on the South Bank, and the stunning Daily Express building on Fleet Street. This is, however, in comparison with the number of well-known Gothic, Neo-classical, Georgian and Victorian buildings in London, a very small handful. Little attention has been paid to the countless blocks of flats, offices, commercial buildings and public and institutional buildings that can easily fit within a broad definition of Art Deco.

Art Deco was essentially a European invention, created by a largely independent group of designers who had moved away from the flowing vegetation of Art Nouveau and looked towards simpler, more geometric forms. A child of Vienna and Paris, Art Deco was the first truly twentieth century style, though the full breadth of its influence was not felt until after the First World War. It initially appeared in the applied arts, in areas such as furniture design, metalwork and jewellery, germinating in the Wiener Werkstatte of Hoffmann and Moser, and flowered in the years immediately preceding the conflict in the workshops of Ruhlmann, Brandt, Poiret and others in Paris.

Already we have two sources of design ideas – and many more would follow – with Vienna’s black and white squares and rectilinear furniture, and the spirals, chevrons and fountains of Paris. By the 1920s these new looks had effectively replaced Art Nouveau as the height of modernity. In addition to being seen in Paris salons, and displayed at the 1925 Decorative Arts exhibition in Paris, the creations of these designers found their way onto the ocean liners that were catering to an ever-increasing traffic between Europe and the Americas. And so it began to spread around the world, all over the Americas North and South, to India, to Africa, China and beyond… and even Britain.

3. Why is London not regarded as an Art Deco city?

The 1925 ‘Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs’ in Paris showed just how far the style had travelled in reaching international architects and designers. Countries from around the world exhibited their vision of a new decorative, modernity. Sadly, the British pavilion was only successful in showing just how conservative national taste still was a quarter of the way through the century, as it was little more than a smartly turned out baronial hall.

It was a universe away from the white, rectilinear ‘L’Esprit Nouveau’ pavilion of Le Corbusier, exiled off the main site of the exhibition, but both spartan and meticulous, the visible presence of what would come after the war. Further, aside from the brilliant Scottish designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the British made little or no contribution to the genesis and evolution of Art Deco architecture. As a result of this there has been little consideration as to whether there might be a notional form of British Art Deco.

By the end of the 1920s Art Deco buildings had begun to appear in London, but purely as an imported style. The factories of the Great West Road, and the Hoover Factory remain as evidence of this. The influence of zig-zags, chevrons and waterfalls may have continued to reverberate in Britain and around the world, however, the mid 1930s brought a more uncompromising Modernism to the fore in Europe, and ‘Des Arts Decoratifs’ began to slowly vanish from the new international culture.

The hidden player in all of this was the economy. The rich foliage that continued from the nineteenth century underwent its first pruning with the hardships of World War I. As the world’s economy picked up and began to flourish in the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s, we got the golden age of Art Deco, and coincidentally the first global age, where modern transport and the beginnings of telecommunications opened access to all parts of the world, though at this point of time only to the rich and famous. By the end of the 1920s an entirely new vocabulary of structures and stylistic elements was in place around the world.

Then the Great Depression began. The Crash of ‘29 took the wind from the brightly coloured sails of the 1920s, and did away with the fortunes of many of those who had supported it. As if on cue, designers at this time began picking up on the more spartan modernist/functionalist ethos that has become known as ‘Moderne’. Decoration, already reduced and simplified, was greatly reduced, with the pure form of the object called to the role of providing beauty. Sparse became chic. With the age of mass production this collective shift in aesthetics was as much a necessity as a new style. While the use of applied decoration had always been convenient for hiding mediocre or bad design, its total removal was as much a convenience to improve the ease and speed of mass-production.

Techniques of mass-production, and pre-fabricated components were instrumental in the surge of building that took place throughout the late 1920s and all through the 1930s. Steel frame buildings of considerable size could be put up in a fraction of the time of older masonry-based buildings. By the mid 1930s a simpler modern style became popular and the resulting simplicity of the design and complete, or near complete, lack of decoration further facilitated the ease and speed of building, though initially this was evident only in areas of new development such as self-service apartments, factories, cinemas and the Underground.

Most UK architects at the beginning of the twentieth century were, however, among the most conservative in Europe, almost exclusively preoccupied with historical styles, most notably the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Classical, though a few had taken up the Victorian era modern style known as Arts & Crafts. Neo-Classicism was still regarded by many as the sole form of good taste. Neo-Classical buildings continued to be the norm, for example in the banking district, where one would expect a more conservative tone. The 1932 National Provincial Bank building at Poultry and Princes Streets by Sir Edwin Cooper, now a NatWest bank, is a perfect example of this.

It is difficult to say whether it was the architects or their clients who were more conservative. There are many interesting compromises in central London that could easily have been the result of either. A prominent city landmark such as the Unilever building at Blackfriars appears to be a Neo-classical edifice from a distance, but it is studded from end to end with Art Deco sculpture and detailing.

There were, nonetheless, architects and clients who took the risks and spearheaded the arrival of twentieth century architecture. The beginning of the twentieth century was a time of extraordinary development, when many traditions and ways of life that had existed for centuries were swept aside by innovations and changes that influenced all aspects of society. Even the most conservative of disciplines were eventually caught up with and carried forward by this wave of transformation. New styles of art, sculpture and architecture slowly penetrated the traditions and conventions that had prevailed.

Not that there was a lack of desire for innovation in early twentieth century culture, but one can imagine the shocking impact that these new forms must have had. One pre-cursor to Art Deco that must have had such an impact is the 1911 Michelin Building in South Kensington. The entire structure was a chapel to the modern world, based around Bibendum, an imaginary character whose body consisted entirely of piles of automobile tyres. Almost cocking a snook at the Neo-Gothic, his cheery bulk is enshrined in a large, stained-glass window at the front centre of the building. Decorated further with panels that showed speeding automobiles, here was early modernity broaching the borders of Victoria’s Albertopolis.

Certainly, there were a few UK architects like Charles Holden, and clients like Frank Pick, who sought and grasped the essence of modern ideals, and who strove to bring them to life in the city. Holden is the most highly regarded of the modernizers, though other architects such as Thomas Wallis and George Coles, who represent the emerging sectors of factory and cinema design, also worked to bring the early twentieth century architecture of London up to date. From this epoch in London the international architects Welles Coates and Bertold Lubetkin, along with the British architect Maxwell Fry, represent the most uncompromising side of the modernist ideal.

There are other unknown, unsung heroes such as the company architects employed by Woolworths and Burtons whose buildings can still be seen in the City. These architects designed high street shops that made use of the new style, and used the motifs repeatedly in different areas of the city. Thus, in parallel to the visible modernity of Holden’s Underground stations making a design statement about the speed and convenience of modern transport in London, Art Deco spread as a form of commercial branding in London and across the country.

London has many fascinating Art Deco and early Modernist structures that are easily overlooked, buried as they are in a vast, sprawling urban environment. There has been some excellent restoration and preservation to upgrade some of the varied Art Deco treasures of London to a state where they can be appreciated as they once were. One fine example is the work of English Heritage on Eltham Palace. Some buildings like Unilever House have had makeovers that faithfully kept their character, while others have undergone transformations that have allowed them to stay alive as architecture. Witness the totally different function of the Hoover Factory in Perivale, now a Tesco supermarket.

4. British Art Deco?

Is there such a thing as British Art Deco, given that Art Deco in this country is so much the product of outside ideas and influences? There is one aspect of the buildings from this period that has few parallels anywhere else in the world, and that is the use of brick facings. While some of the Art Deco marvels of London feature glazed ceramics for cladding or details, the clever and careful use of bricks has lifted some of the City’s period buildings to iconic status. Bankside and Battersea Power Stations, both designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, are two prime examples, while countless apartment buildings such as Du Cane Court and Dorset Court took the humble brick to a stylish apogee. We may debate whether a building material can manifest an entire style, but once again the pluralistic nature of Art Deco is flexible. British mastery of bricks certainly gives a unique continuity to the Art Deco in London.

The influence of Art Deco on London’s architecture is still alive today, not only in the façades of large new buildings, but in interiors as well: the interconnected Bank and Monument Underground stations have been given a stunning Neo-Deco look, from angular griffins taken from the City’s coat of arms, to the many bright chrome doors with zigzag motifs, and geometric light fittings. A short walk from Bank station are many of the pure functionalist buildings from the 1950s to the 1970s, and leaping ahead, the Post-Modernist Alban Gate tower of Terry Farrell, with its Art Deco teasing. Farrell lead the City into Post-Modernism, and his astonishing building for MI6 on the banks of the Thames is the product of a thorough examination of Art Deco style.

In comparison to other European countries at the beginning of the twentieth century Britain was abreast of the new technical possibilities for building, but lagged behind in seeking approaches towards the creation of new forms of architecture more appropriate for the times. Ironically it was the ideas of British thinkers such as Morris and Ruskin, and later Charles Rennie Mackintosh, that had led to the formation of vanguard organisations in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The architects in organisations such as the Wiener Werkstätte, De Stijl, and the Bauhaus were the ones who truly began to challenge the traditional forms and approaches to building and design.

During the early decades of the twentieth century architecture surged upwards with new approaches to building. Freed from the weight of masonry, using new techniques and materials such as reinforced concrete and modular construction, the size and form of new buildings constantly pushed past old limits. There was much debate regarding the relationship of buildings and ornament with two extreme approaches evident: the conservatives, who felt that traditional forms such as Classical and Gothic were the only appropriate forms for architecture, and at the other extreme the modernists who sought to eradicate the presence of sculpture, or any form of ornament from architecture.

Between these two extremes were architects seeking a middle path where new forms of architecture and sculpture could be combined to bring both into the modern world, and thereby maintain their relationship. This middle path, exemplified by the architecture of Charles Holden, largely vanished after World War II.

At the other extreme of compromise, however, is the former Daily Express building on Fleet Street, which has a modernist exterior of metal and glass and no decoration whatsoever, but which has, inside, a foyer that is one of the most perfect expressions of Art Deco from anywhere in the world.

British architects took a long while to get going with Art Deco, and a correspondingly long time to say goodbye to it. Right into the early 1950s one finds both sculptural details, and even some very large structures that are pure Art Deco, such as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1951 Corporation of London Administration building in Guildhall, another example of a large building with a brick exterior. If what we call Art Deco was disparaged from the mid 1950s through the 1960s and 1970s, it reappeared in the 1980s and a small second wave blossomed with Post-Modernist architecture and Neo-Deco.

5. What Makes a Building Art Deco?

Are there any easy ways to recognise Art Deco? As noted previously, Art Deco is really a plurality of styles rather than any one collection of shapes such as we have with Gothic or Neo-Classical. There are certainly a few aspects that are quick markers of the Art Deco style, including geometric forms, buildings with marked conjunctions of vertical and horizontal forms, curved elements, certain animals, beautiful women, often with short hair, as well as both male and female nudes.

The latter are rare in British Art Deco architecture. There are certainly many figures to be found on corporate, public and institutional buildings in London, though a few can be found on blocks of flats – known outside Britain as apartments. A notable example is Dorset House in Marylebone, which has two exquisite panels carved by the sculptor Eric Gill, who also carved a series of scenes from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ for the BBC building on Portland Place.

One of the most prevalent motifs is the chevron, a sort of stretched ‘V’ shape. It is used in many different variations in buildings throughout London, a few of which can be seen here. The chevron is a form whose use goes back to antiquity, where it can be seen on some ancient ceramics. It was used through more recent history in Europe as a simple element of heraldic coats of arms, and probably through this came to be used as indicators of rank on modern army garments.

Other common, linear geometric motifs are lightning bolts, zig-zags, hexagons, and octagons, the last two being often used for clocks or windows. It is also important to realise that the designers of this time were not simply reaching into a collection of pre-existing styles and motifs. There was a great deal of creativity on the part of architects and designers, such as chevrons being cast in an infinite pattern, or used in repeated variations as a capital, zigzags used for waves, or combinations of forms such as diamonds and chevrons.

Curves, and curving façades, are important features of Art Deco buildings, some of them with long continuous curves going around corners. Design motifs such as spirals were sometimes grouped together to create the form of a fountain. Curved balcony ends are another common feature.

Vegetation was an important element of Art Nouveau, and is also seen often in Art Deco, but with a significant difference in approach. In Art Nouveau the emphasis is on profuse growth with madly writhing branches and intricate clusters of leaves equally as important as flowers. In Art Deco, on the other hand the flower is the most important vegetation, and these are often seen in a simplified or semi-abstract form, which some call ‘stylised’.

This essential reduction of form, which had its origins in Post-Impressionism and Cubist painting, was also used for figures and for animals in Art Deco. Many different types of animals can be found amongst London’s Art Deco architecture, including elephants, pelicans, owls, cats, and gazelles, the latter a popular Art Deco animal worldwide. Of course we will also find the national emblem: the lion.

Though it might seem contradictory, as all modern movements in architecture sought to get away from the use of the much repeated ancient forms to be found in Neo-Classical architecture, there are classical elements in Art Deco. This might be seen in figures from classical mythology, or in simple elements such as fluting, much used in conjunction with windows in some Art Deco buildings.

As you can see there are many buildings that feature the sort of decorative motifs that we might expect to see on Art Deco buildings in other countries. In the main, however, there are a number of buildings in London that have little or no such decoration other than curves and bands. If we have to label this type of Art Deco it will be ‘Streamline Moderne’ or simply ‘Moderne.’

This may be as minimal or as extravagant as an architect might imagine, and could be constructed with bands, curves and contrasts of horizontal and vertical elements. Just as the figurative had the elements of form reduced to the essential, so too with the building’s volumes there was a simplification to allow the form itself to shine. This is one of the key points that link the apparent opposition of flamboyance of Art Deco and the austerity of the International Modern ‘style’ that followed it.

Finally, there was always a love of certain foreign styles that made their way into the architecture of London. While we have seen some influence of Classical elements, probably the most prominent import was the ancient Egyptian style, which like other aspects of Art Deco could be brightly coloured. With the fantastic discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the early 1920s by British archeologist Howard Carter there was an immediate craze for all things Egyptian, like the Black Cat Cigarette Factory. Curiously, there are no Art Deco buildings in London derived from Gothic architecture, such as you can find in the United States.

6. British Art Deco Artists and Designers

London Deco Artists and Designers

Here are some of the major artists who are associated with the decoration of London’s Art Deco buildings. Some of the best known, such as Sir Henry Moore, Eric Gill and Sir Jacob Epstein are internationally renowned, while others have more purely national associations.

This was a time when many architects were looking at the doctrine of functionalism, which regarded sculpture and other decoration to be superfluous to the needs of modern building. The architect Charles Holden was a great champion of artist’s involvement with modern architecture, though also among those who were debating this issue. A part of this debate is the question of scale, where even large works can be lost to the great heights of modern buildings. The statues of winds seen here, though large works, are somewhat lost at the top of Holden’s London Transport building. In spite of this, it is the decorative elements, such as sculpture, which continue to make Art Deco such an endearing style.


Sir Henry Moore

Henry Moore was born in 1898 to a miner in Castleford, Yorkshire. He served in WW1 and rose to a Lance Corporal, after seeing considerable action at the front. During the tank battle at Cambrai he was caught in a mustard gas attack hospitalised. His father encouraged all of his children to improve their lot in life through education, and Moore later enrolled at Leeds School of Art where he had fellow sculptor Barbara Hepworth as a classmate. He succeeded in winning a scholarship at the Royal College of Art at the age of 23.

Moore was among the designers and sculptors involved with architect Charles Holden’s London Underground Headquarters building, above the St. James Place underground station. Moore’s work (the “West Wind”), and that of the five other participating sculptors, are a long way up the sides of the building. The scale of the structure and the placing of them defeats any but the most careful eye from finding them.

Eric Gill

Also involved with the London Underground Headquarters decoration, Eric Gill trained as both and artist and an architect, but became best known as a sculptor, printmaker and typographer. His South Wind can be seen here. Born in Brighton, he was much a lover of craftsmanship and old style guilds. He trained in various workshops before setting up his own. Of all the British sculptors of the period he is one of the most immediately recognizable as having an Art Deco style.

His work was refined and graceful, yet could also be tremendously lively. The Ariel reliefs around the BBC building on Portland Place are an excellent example of this, one of which is shown here. Sir Jacob Epstein

Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959) was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. He was born in New York in 1880, and later studied with Rodin in Paris, but ultimately adopted England as his home in 1905. He was a revolutionary figure, often producing controversial works, and always challenging the conventional tastes with large bold forms. Some of his most notable architectural sculpture is in London, beginning with a large number of brilliant allegorical figures for Charles Holden’s British Medical Association Building in 1908. Alas these caused considerable controversy, and were later officially and publicly defaced.

In spite of this sorry episode, Holden had faith in Epstein and employed him to carve two large, prominent works for the London Transport Headquarters/St James Station building that he designed in 1926. He also stuck by him when the inevitable controversy reappeared. One of Epstein’s monumental works, “Night”, based on Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” was vandalised shortly after it was completed. This, and the other equally large and complimentary work, “Day” caused a lot of strong feeling when they were unveiled. Epstein’s powerful handling of these works can still be seen above the entrances to the building at 55 Broadway.

Siegfried Charoux

St Swithin’s House, at 30-37 Walbrook is a bland, mid 1950s government building, designed by Gunton & Gunton, it is graced by two sculpture groups by the Austrian sculptor Siegfried Charoux, called ‘The Arts’ and ‘Manual Labour’. These were among his first efforts as a stone carver, as he had previously worked mainly in terracotta, producing figures of idealised workers for the socialist local government in Vienna in the early 1930s. A figure of a miner from ‘Manual Labour’ can be seen here.

Sir William Reid Dick RA

Sir William Reid Dick (1879-1961), a member of the Royal Academy, was responsible for various human and animal statues in London. Official sculptor to King George VI, he carved the figure of George V by the House of Lords, the Franklin D Roosevelt statue in Grosvenor Square, and John Soane’s figure at the Bank of England. He was also the sculptor of the imposing monumental horses on Unilever House.

These owe their existence to the architect J Lomax Simpson’s lifelong passion for horses. While Burnet Tait & Partners are given credit for the building, the concept came primarily from Lomax Simpson, who envisioned large, powerful groups of people and horses at either end of the structure, and included them in even his earliest sketches. Together Dick’s finished works are known as “Controlled Energy”. One features two men, the other two women, securing large horses. They are carefully integrated into this long narrow building and sit like mastheads at either end of a long ship. The riverside location heightens this effect.

Gilbert Ledward (1888-1960)

Gilbert Ledward was born in London in 1888 and studied at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy. In 1913 he became the first sculptor to win the RA’s Rome Prize. He was one of many sculptors who worked on memorials after WW1, including the Guards Division Memorial. As Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art 1927-29, he had no less than Henry Moore as an assistant. Ledward created the mermaid and merman keystones at either end of Unilever House.


Betty Joel

Betty Joel (1894 – 1985) was born in Hong Kong in 1894, the daughter of a British administrator, Mary Steward Lockhart, but was educated in England. She married David Joel in 1918 who she met when he was serving in the navy in the Far East. Together, despite having no formal training, they began to manufacture furniture under the name Betty Joel Ltd. They opened a workshop on Hayling Island in 1921, and followed this shortly thereafter with a factory in Portsmouth. Their early work was influenced by the Art and Crafts movement, but later they picked up the wave of Modernism and Art Deco.

They opened the Betty ]oel showroom in Sloane Street London, and later moved to Knightsbridge. Expanding from furniture they developed fabrics woven in France and carpets woven in China. With a wide range of clients including Lord Louis Mountbatten, and manufactured furniture for the Savoy and St James’s Palace hotels, as well as projects built by HS Goodhart-Rendel, they made it to the heart of fashionable London.

Clarice Cliff (1899 – 1972)

Clarice Cliff became a prominent ceramics designer and something of a star in her field. Born in Staffordshire in the heart of pottery country, she worked at AJ Wilkinson after WWI, where she developed her ceramic ideas. Her tea sets and kitchenware often used very bright colours, a hallmark of Art Deco regarded as having its origins in the costumes and sets of the Ballet Russe.

She was born on January 20th, 1899 and left school at the age of 13 to work in the potteries. By the time she began working for the ceramics firm of Arthur J Wilkinson in 1916 she had gained a good knowledge and facility in freehand painting of ceramics. She trained with Wilkinson’s Royal Staffordshire Potteries first as a lithographer, and during her apprenticeship attended art classes at Burslem School of Art. AJ Wilkinson bought the Newport Pottery Company of Burslem in 1920, and it was the Newport products, propelled by Cliff’s inspiration, that the brought the company fame.

Cliff, like many others of her time, had seen the Ballet Russe of Sergei Diaghilev and had been captivated by the sensational use of bright colours in its productions. Seen by many as a leading influence on Art Deco design, the strong greens, purples and crimsons, and equally strong contrasts from their juxtaposition, were a new palette that shocked and surprised a generation accustomed to the pastel shades of the fin-de-siecle. Other brightly coloured inspiration came in the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, whose glittering polychrome ornaments touched of a new craze for all things Egyptian.

Talented, enthusiastic, and inspired by these events, along with the new art movements from Europe, Clarice Cliff sought a means to put them into her pottery work. She persuaded Wilkinson’s marketing director Colley Shorter to let her put some of them into practise on some unsold, unglazed ceramics at Newport. The firm saw the value in her ideas, and even arranged for her to study briefly at the Royal College of Art in London in 1927. When she returned to Newport, she set out not only on the work of modernising the designs but eventually the pottery forms themselves. A sharply geometric line of table and kitchenwares called “Conical” was followed by the streamlined “Odilon” and others.

These new products were called “Bizarre Ware” and upon being launched in 1929, were an immediate success. With the help of some assistants, some of whom sometimes contributed designs of their own, “Bizarre Ware” made Clarice Cliff as well know as the company, who made good publicity of her being the only woman art director in the potteries.

Throughout the 1930s Newport Potteries under the direction of Clarice Cliff, released a steady variety of imaginative table and kitchenware. These innovative designs are avidly collected today. Cliff also tried, without such great success, to employ artists to produce designs for Newport’s wares. Among the artists she commissioned were Graham Sutherland, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Sir Frank Brangwyn and Laura Knight.

Eventually “Bizarre Wares” were discontinued in 1941. By this time Cliff had became involved in Wilkinsons’ administration. Like Eileen Gray she was surprised when the revival of Art Deco brought her once again into the spotlight, but her lively and colourful creations are still popular.

Susie Cooper

Susie (Susan Vera) Cooper was born in 1902 and emerged as an important ceramic designer after her early ambition to be a fashion designer passed. She began to work in ceramics in l922, initially working with A. E. Gray & Co painting blanks. Her designs caused a sensation at the 1922 British Industries Fair where she sold a triangular lamp base, decorated with a clown to the Royal family. In 1929 she established her own workshop, and her factory produced breakfast sets, tea sets and dinnerware. In 1931 she accepted an offer from Wood & Son’s Crown Works to design some unique forms. She created a series of Art Deco designs that were nonetheless careful and restrained. They were both appealing and inexpensive to produce and this combination led them to considerable success with the public.

Eric Slater

Born in 1902, Eric Slater trained as an engineer, but became involved with Shelley Potteries where he became director in 1928, just as they were becoming involved with modern Art Deco designs. He created much of their design throughout the period when they brought the new trends up from inexpensive wares to best porcelain china.


Syrie Maugham

Along with Sybil Colefax and Nancy Lancaster, Syrie Maugham (1879 – 1955) became an interior decorator through her social life, as this was regarded as an acceptable form of employment for society women. Her second husband, the writer W. Somerset Maugham, was a member of many artistic and creative circles and through him Syrie was introduced to many of her future clients.

Her ideas and tastes became quite influential and she opened a shop in London in 1922. She sold the sort of objects that the wealthy liked to have in their homes, and also become very successful in taking old furniture and stripping it and repainting it in contemporary colours. She also designed some furnishings, such as a silvered screen consisting of mirror glass panels. Her shop was a success and she opened a branch in Chicago in 1926, and another in 1927.

The combination that Maugham applied to great effect was mixing modern and period items with muted colour schemes. Rococo mirrors, bamboo furniture and flower arrangements were common features, and her work appeared in national and international magazines. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s her work was both popular and influential.

Gordon Russell

Gordon Russell (1892 – 1980) was a self-taught furniture designer who held dearly the principals of the Arts & Crafts Movement, yet who responded to the potential of the modernist/machine made movement. He began in his father’s antique restoration workshop, and from there set up his own furniture craft workshop in 1910. His work was successfully exhibited at a number of exhibitions, including the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, and the 1925 Paris Decorative Arts show, where he won five medals, and launched himself internationally. His workshops were semi-mechanised, but his designs combined modern elements with traditional English furniture. Effectively he attempted to coax the finest qualities of furniture design out of mechanised working methods.

In 1926 he formed his own company and became a member of the Art Workers’ Guild. He was also involved with the Design and Industries Association as an advocate of good design. By the 1930s he began to move to a more modernistic style, and in 1931 began to produce a series of modern radio cabinets for Murphy Radios. These were designed by his brother, RD Russell.

With the arrival of World War II he resigned as Director of Gordon Russell Limited and devoted his energies to the needs of the war effort with the Board of Trade, and was part of the ‘Utility’ furniture initiative. Following the war he became the Director of the Council of Industrial Design, a department of the Board of Trade which promoted British design internationally.

Roger Fry

Founder of the Omega Workshops, Roger Fry (1866 – 1934) was known as a painter and art educator, as well as a multi-talented artist who almost single-handedly introduced modern art to Britain. Partly in disgust at the endless empty decoration that flourished at the end of the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth, he decided to devote his energies to applied arts and interior decoration. He wanted a new alliance between artists and architects that would not only enoble the spaces in which people lived, but to make real statements, instead of endlessly repeating hackneyed and hollow formulas, like Neo-classical ornament.

Born in London, Roger Fry studied science at King’s College Cambridge where he took a first in the Natural Sciences, but his natural inclination was towards a career in art. Fry went to Italy and Paris to study painting in 1891. In addition to being a notable painter, he became a major force in art, and became a lecturer, critic and author. He wrote on both old masters and on modern masters, and is credited with bringing the world’s attention to Cézanne, Gauguin van Gogh and other Post-Impressionists, as well as Picasso. His first book, which was about Bellini, the 15th century Venetian master, was published in 1899.

He was appointed Curator of Paintings for the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1905 and served this post for five years. He organised the first Exhibition of Post-Impressionist painting at the Grafton Galleries in 1910. A second followed in 1912, and in 1913 he instigated the Omega Workshops in Fitzroy Square in London. Later he published major studies of Cézanne in 1927, and on Matisse in 1930. Fry was appointed as Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge in 1933.

Fry belongs in both Furniture and Ornament, for he was primarily a painter and art historian, but the Omega Workshops were about creating a totally modern statement with furniture.


Duncan Grant

A talented painter and decorative designer, Duncan Grant (1885 – 1978) who, with his partner Vanessa Bell, played a large part in bringing the bright colours and modern sensibility to the household wares of 20th century London. Founder members of the Omega Workshops (1913-1919) they were aware of the innovations in art happening across the Channel, and brought their own versions into the new century. Both he, and Vanessa Bell, created designs under commission for textiles for Allan Walton, as well as Clarice Cliff and the A J Wilkinson potteries, and also decorated ceramics themselves. They also received a commission in 1932 to create a dinner service for Sir Kenneth Clark with portraits of important women, both historical and contemporary, as the theme.

Vanessa Bell

Vanessa Bell (1879 - 1961), painter and decorative designer, was the elder sister of Virginia Woolf, and the daughter of a well- known Victorian writer Sir Leslie Stephen. At age 17 she began to take drawing lessons, and entered the painting school of Royal Academy Schools in 1901. She married poet and an art critic Clive Bell and later had affairs with Roger Fry, and later fell in love forever with the talented artist Duncan Grant, who remained her life-long companion. All of these men had an influence on her art, and she later began painting in a style reminiscent of the Post-Impressionists. With Duncan Grant she contributed to the Omega Workshops in their attempts to bring contemporary artistic ideals to design and household objects.

Paul Nash

Paul Nash (1889 - 1946) was the son of a successful lawyer and trained at the Slade School of Art, where he met Stanley Spencer and other contemporary artists. In his final year there he held a one -man show of watercolours, and followed it with another in 1913. He gradually evolved a style that was quite distinctly his own. His influences were diverse, though Blake and Cezanne were regarded as being particularly formative.

He enlisted at the beginning of World War I and took part in the Ypres offensive, rising to Lieutenant by 1916. He was invalided out in 1917 due to a non-military accident, and took home the many sketches he had made in the trenches. These evolved into an exhibition later that year, and brought his graphic abilities to the attention of the War Propaganda Bureau. He was recruited as a war artist, one of some 90 artists working for the WPB, and returned to the front, though he was unhappy about his purpose in doing so. He was recruited again in World War II, but illustrated the air war instead of the trenches. Between the wars he was a designer of ceramics and textiles, and was a founding member of avant-garde art group Unit One. His paintings of the time veered towards Surrealism, drawing on the stark, harsh imagery of he war that he had seen firsthand. He died in 1946.

Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious (1903 – 1942) studied at the Royal College of Art in London, where he was tutored by Paul Nash. He became an important wood engraver in the 1920s, and went on to become a prominent artist working in a variety of disciplines including watercolours, murals, and printmaking. He also received a commission to design pottery for Wedgwood.

Wedgwood had employed artists to decorate their wares in the 19th century, and embarked on a similar path in 1935. His superb and subtle watercolours, drawings, and book illustrations, along with his ceramic designs for Wedgwood have influenced an entire generation of British design.

Like Paul Nash, he became a War Artist, but the talented Ravilious had his career cut short from this. He was killed in Iceland during an air-sea rescue mission in 1942, at the age of thirty-nine.

William Foxton

William Foxton was an innovative textile manufacturer who ran William Foxton and Co of London. This firm created some of the most interesting geometric textiles through the 1920s, and featured designs by vanguards such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Foxton exhibited his wares at the 1925 Paris exhibition that were well received.

Allan Walton

Alan Walton (1891 – 1948) trained in an architect’s office in London. Gaining experience also as a painter and designer, he began a textile firm and employed many contemporary artists to design fabrics. Allan Walton Textiles made use of the skills of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and Frank Dobson among others.


Gregory Edwards’ writing and photography has mainly been concerned with the theme of the urban environment, and what ornament and decoration can contribute to human spaces. Three years of such investigation resulted in his first published work: ‘Hidden Cities: Art and Design in Architectural Details of Vancouver and Victoria’. Published in 1991 by Canadian publisher Talonbooks, this extensively illustrated book won a City of Vancouver Heritage Award in 1992, and was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award for that same year.

He began writing about mosaics in 1994 with a project supported by the Canada Council called ‘Dancing Streets.’ This study looked at the extraordinary mosaic pavements found all over Rio de Janeiro, some of them in the touristic areas, and others in places where no tourists ever go.

After completing ‘Dancing Streets’ he moved to London where he has lived, worked and studied for over twenty years. During this time he has exhibited photographs of Art Deco architecture on numerous occasions, and given talks about London’s Art Deco architecture. From 2006-2012 he had a website called ‘London Deco’.

In September 2014 he published the first volume of a series of ebooks: ‘London Deco: Offices’. This was the first publication dedicated to exclusively examine the city’s considerable number of Art Deco office buildings, most of them in central London. It has over three hundred photographs in it and includes sections devoted to buildings that no longer exist, and on contemporary ones which reference Art Deco.

This was followed by ‘London Deco: Residences – Part 1 Suburbia’ and some time later with ‘London Deco: Residences – Part 2 Central London’. These two ebooks effectively divided the tremendous number of Art Deco apartments – ‘blocks of flats’ to Londoners – into outer and inner segments which in turn each revolved West – North – East – South. With these two volumes a broad survey is presented, showing the many forms of Art Deco flats constructed in the Greater London area, mainly in the 1930s, but sometimes later. Like ‘London Deco: Offices’ these feature hundreds of photographs.

These books can be located by searching for ‘gregory edwards london deco’. Another version of ‘London Deco: Introduction’ is also available in a more extensively illustrated version as a free download.

The other activities which preoccupy Gregory Edwards are art and poetry, which have resulted in one ebook: ‘Stay Up Late’, published by Shakespir, which is a collection of science-fiction and fantasy poems. Gregory is currently working on a new work, an illustrated collection of poems called: ‘Rotten Rhymes’.

He is also painting a series of works collectively titled: ‘Quantum Mythology’. These paintings depict vast empyrean spaces, fleeting orbits and cosmic explosions.

Hidden City Publishing’s series of guides to London’s Art Deco architecture by Gregory Edwards. Search for ‘gregory edwards london deco’

London Deco: Introduction

'London Deco: Introduction' is an essential introductory volume for the London Deco series of ebooks by Gregory Edwards, and published by Hidden City Publishing. In 'London Deco: Introduction' there are attempts to answer the questions: “Why is London not Regarded as an Art Deco City?” and, at least as far as London is concerned, “What Makes a Building Art Deco?”. It also has a directory of British Art Deco Artists and Designers. This ebook introduces 'London Deco: Offices', 'London Deco: Residences Part 1, Suburbia' and 'London Deco: Residences Part 2, Central London.' These profusely illustrated ebooks tell about the tremendous amount of Art Deco architecture scattered far and wide across London, and will delight anyone interested in this subject. Wherever possible addresses and British postcodes are provided to make it possible to locate the buildings presented.

  • ISBN: 9781310076237
  • Author: Gregory Edwards
  • Published: 2015-11-22 13:40:08
  • Words: 7826
London Deco: Introduction London Deco: Introduction