A Royal Doulton Owl

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A large Royal Doulton terracota owl designed by Francis Pope.

Doulton & Co. was established in 1854 by Henry Doulton (1820-1897) in the traditionally stoneware manufacturing area of Lambeth, London. After reluctantly agreeing to collaborate with the nearbly Lambeth School Of Art on a range of decorative ceramics he rapidly saw the benefits of a serious interest in the history of ceramics and in developing an artistic range of wares. The earliest products of this collaboration were shown with great success at the international exhibition, Paris in 1867. By the 1880s Doulton were producing not only exhibition quality stonewares and ceramics for the home, but also architectural works on an increasingly large scale. The Doulton fountain in Glasgow, built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee of 1887 is the largest of its kind in the world and utilises cast and moulded terracotta sections in two colours, in order to provide a contrast between the figural groups and their architectural surroundings.

Francis Pope was one of the School of Art students employed in Doulton's studio and worked with the company until his premature death in 1825. Although gaining popularity initially through his Art Nouveau and Modernisme designs in the early 1900s, Pope was among the finest of Doulton's sculptors to respond to the shifting tastes of the 1920s. His later products, such as this owl, subtly melded neo-Gothic influences such as Violet-le-Duc's restorations to the cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris and Alfred Waterhouse's Natural History Museum, London, with the austere and architectonic  motifs of the high Art Deco period. The unglazed terracotta figure of an owl under discussion here was probably commissioned as part of the company's efforts to compete with the 1925 Paris exhibition, as the world's focus turned increasingly to France for the best in contemporary design. The owl was produced as part of a wider series of highly stylised animal statuary designed to decorate exterior settings in the Art Deco taste. Their unadorned, stone-like material, crispness of design, and rampant poses are imbued with a sense of aesthetic formality, and their deeply moulded cubic contours were intended to create a dramatic interplay of light and shade across their surfaces. This owl offers a particularly good perspective on Pope's later avant-garde style and stands out as one of the most successful of his designs for the bestiary series.

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