177/1998

Collection

Ceramics

Brief description

Polar bear figure made from matt white glazed earthenware, designed by John Skeaping in 1927 and manufactured by Wedgwood, Stoke-on-Trent, until 1950.

Object name

figure

Object number

177/1998

Location

On Display

Production person

John Rattenbury Skeaping (designer)

Production organisation

Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd (manufacturer)

Production date

1927 (designed)
1927-1950 (manufactured)

Production place

Stoke-on-Trent (manufactured)

Period

Twentieth century (1900-1999)

Material

earthenware
glaze

Technique

cast

Physical description

The polar bear is made from earthenware covered in a matt white glaze and is of angular form. The bear is seated on a base with hunched shoulders, with its neck and head stretched out. There is an inscription impressed on the side of the base 'J SKEAPING WEDGWOOD.' The second inscription is stamped in green on the underside of the base 'WEDGWOOD/ETRURIA.ENGLAND'.

Dimensions

Depth: 13cm
Height: 19cm
Width: 25.5cm

Website keywords

ornaments

Label

Caption for Exploring 20th Century London website:

This polar bear is one of ten small animal figures John Skeaping designed for Wedgwood in 1927; the range was so popular that it went on to be produced until 1950. At the time Skeaping designed them, he was a regular visitor to London Zoo and he drew from life the creatures he observed there. It's likely that this figure was based on either Sam or Barbara, two of the polar or ice bears then at the zoo. There are other possible models though, as there were a number of captive bears living in the zoo at the time…including one called Trousers.

Label text for the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):

Polar bear figure

In the late 1920s three polar bears, native to the Arctic Circle, were living in London
Zoo. The designer John Skeaping was commissioned by Wedgwood to make ten small ceramic animal figures, which he based on sketches drawn at the zoo. This figure could have been inspired by the bears Sam, Barbara or Trousers.


This object was featured in the World at Home project and display at the Geffrye Museum from 17 May to 24 July 2011. The project was a result of a collaboration between the Geffrye Museum and MA students from the Institute of Archeology, University College London. The students chose eleven objects from the museum’s period rooms to highlight the narrative of England’s ever-changing relationship with the rest of the world. Through the expansion of the British Empire and development of international trade, the English middle classes brought into their homes goods as varied as pottery from Germany, tea from China and modern furniture from Scandinavia. Other outputs of the project included design marketing materials, on-line activities, events, design activities for children and visitor and audience research.

The students researched these objects and prepared text panels for the display. The text is recorded below:

A ‘Moderne’ World
In the 1920s and 1930s, two related styles took global design, architecture, fashion and art by
storm. The 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris introduced English designers and consumers to the ‘moderne’ style and to so-called ‘Art Deco’ design. The ‘moderne’, like Art Deco, favoured simple and clean linearity often combined with references to distant countries and cultures, and use of unusual materials. This figurine with its strong and simple lines, contrasts with the more elaborate patterns and geometries often seen in ornaments made in the ‘Art Deco’ style.

In an Iceberg Far, Far Away… in London
John Skeaping was an English sculptor who had lived in Rome. His direct experience of European trends was enhanced by the Art Deco and modernist currents flowing into England. Though produced by a traditional English pottery firm, Wedgwood, the bear’s plain colour and bold curves make it modern and compelling.

Functionality and Modernity

City living and flats had increasing allure for the middle classes, and offered simplicity,sophistication and convenience. Unobtrusive and streamlined furniture stored away functional objects, so that purely decorative objects like the polar bear could be exhibited to best advantage.

Skeaping often worked from real-life models and was a regular visitor of the London Zoo. The polar bear statuette could have been based on a sketch of Barbara or Sam, two polar bears living in the zoo at the time. This statuette was one of the most popular figurines designed by the artist. Its simple, modern traits and accessible price enhanced its appeal.

John Skeaping created a series of 14 models of animal studies, 10 of which, went into production in 1927. The figurines included Tiger, Seal, Buck, Fallow Deer, Monkeys and Duikers, as well as Buffalo, based on a calf born at London Zoo that year.
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