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Influences on Violet Elmer
Designer for Carlton Ware during the 1930s.


Zeitgeist, or spirit of the age, helps us explain why at a particular point in time designers, even from different disciplines, produce similar work completely independently.

I came across a good example of this when I visited the Sonia Delaunay Exhibition, which ran in 2015 at the Tate Modern in London. I was struck by the similarity of some of Delaunay's work to Violet Elmer's for Carlton Ware during the 1930s.

Sonia Delaunay was an abstract artist and key figure in the Parisian avant-garde. Way ahead of her time, she made no distinction between fine art and applied art. The black and white photographs of her work shown in this article date from the mid 1920s.

Below is a picture of some of Delaunay's clothes alongside a Carlton Ware Intersections jug, one of Miss Elmer's HANDCRAFT designs.

Carlton Ware Intersections HANDCRAFT jug

Another interesting comparison is between a vase in Violet Elmer's Lightning pattern and a Delauney "onesie".

Carlton Ware Lightning HANDCRAFT vase

In the black and white photograph below, notice the 'blocks' in the Delaunay wallpaper in the background and compare it with the MODERN WARE Carre pattern candlestick.

Carlton Ware Carre HANDCRAFT candlestick

There are similarities in the photograph with Carlton Ware's Zig-zag pattern and the Strata coffee cup below.
Carlton Ware Zig-zag REVO HANDCRAFT tray and Strata MELON shape coffee cup

Violet Elmer's Chevrons pattern also captures the zeitgeist, as in the comparison below.

Carlton Ware's Chevrons pattern & Sonia Delaunay in similar dress.

It seems unlikely that Carlton Ware's designer Violet Elmer, a young woman from Oxford and from a relatively humble background, would have been aware of outré high-end Paris fashions. We can say, however, that Miss Elmer is more than able to create dramatic, avant-garde work and is up there with the best of the modernists.

What is most extraordinary is that Carlton Ware was so adventurous in introducing what must have been highly risky designs at the time. Note, however, that those shown above are all HANDCRAFT patterns, which were completely freehand painted and though taking time to execute did not incur the high expense of a copper plate engraving needed for printed patterns.

Below is a Carlton Ware vase decorated with Miss Elmer's HOLLYHOCKS pattern, a printed design. Notice how similar it is to a Sonia Delaunay's textile design from 1928.

Carlton Ware HOLLYHOCKS vase

These stylized floral, Catherine wheel type elements are one of Miss Elmer's signatures. A good example is her fabulous BELL pattern, as on the bowl below.

Carlton Ware BELL bowl

There are many other examples, SUMMER FLOWERS, PERSIAN GARDEN and WAGON WHEELS, to name a few.

Sonia Delaunay was an expert colourist, something that can also be said of Miss Elmer. Compare the colour combinations on Miss Elmer's Floral Comet pattern on the jug below and those in a Delaunany painting, Electric Prisms, though this dates from 1914. Both are dazzling. Bearing in mind that Miss Elmer had a much more limited colour palette to work from, Floral Comet is a tour de force.

Carlton Ware Floral Comet jug

© Harvey Pettit 2015.

The first UK retrospective to assess the breadth of Sonia Delaunay's vibrant artistic practice across a wide range of media was held at the Tate Modern, London and ended on 9 August 2015.

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Harvey Pettit © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.