Our Museum Feature this month is a stunning “Matador and Bull” figurine produced by Royal Doulton. First produced in 1964 (and still in production today) this large figurine stands 16 inches tall, and measures 22 inches in length. The figurine depicts a daring matador waving his “muleta” or cape as he barely escapes the charge of a ferocious bull. This piece is part of Royal Doulton’s “Prestige Collection”, which comprises items crafted to individual order that can take many months to create. Both the matador and the bull in this piece are remarkably life-like; the matador’s “traje de luces” (suit of lights) is beautifully detailed, from the golden embroidery on his jacket to the bows of his slippers, and the fluid movement of the bull is captured perfectly.
The “Matador and Bull” figurine was designed by world-renowned modeler Peggy Davies, who began her career at Royal Doulton’s Burslem Studio in 1939. When the studio closed after being damaged by bombs during WWII, Davies became a nurse and helped with the war effort. After the war, Davies established her own independent studio, maintaining a contract to supply Royal Doulton with figurines. From early in her career, Davies had a remarkable capacity to capture movement in her works. Her “Marriage of Art and Industry” piece, a collaboration with Royal Doulton design director Jo Ledger, won the Grand Prix at the 1958 Brussels Exhibition. When Davies began work on the “Matador and Bull” figurine in 1963, she not only studied Spanish bullfighting posters, but also visited local farms to observe the movement and anatomy of bulls. During an interview in 1982, Davies stated, “It’s the preparation and information rather than the execution of the model that takes the time.” During her tenure working with Royal Doulton, she became known as one of the company’s best modelers, producing a number of their most popular figurines. Her “Matador and Bull” figurine is a wonderful representation of the craftsmanship and production excellence associated with Royal Doulton.
Royal Doulton began as Doulton and Watts Pottery in 1815. A partnership between John Doulton, Martha Jones, and John Watts, the pottery house mainly produced industrial materials such as stoneware sewer pipes, along with pots, jugs, and pitchers. The new business flourished over the next few years, and eventually relocated to Lambeth, England. By 1830, John Doulton’s sons had joined the management of the factory. As the company grew, so did its interest in producing ceramics for the home. Two of John Doulton’s sons, Henry and Frederick, left Doulton and Watts to open Henry Doulton and Co. In 1847, John Doulton’s oldest son, John Doulton, Jr., also left the Lambeth factory to open his own ceramics mill. Turmoil in the European and American financial markets forced the three firms, Doulton and Watts, Henry Doulton and Co., and John Doulton, Jr., to dissolve. But in 1853, the three firms regrouped as Doulton and Co.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, industrial pollution began to contaminate the River Thames, London’s primary source of drinking water. To address this problem, Doulton and Co. produced ceramic vessels that successfully filtered pollutants from the water. These vessels were easily adapted to the needs of the Royal Family, British Military, and hospitals throughout England. In 1901, to honor this contribution to public health, King Edward VII provided Doulton and Co. with a Royal Warrant.
After the Royal Warrant was issued, Doulton and Co. became Royal Doulton. It was around this time that the company began to invest its resources in skillful art directors and sculptors, as Henry Doulton had realized a growing demand for mass produced figurines. The company began producing many collectible items, including character jugs and figurines. By 1910, Royal Doulton had introduced 40 Royal Doulton figurines into the market. Throughout the twentieth century, the company continued to introduce lines of miniature and full scale Royal Doulton figurines, including the “Matador and Bull” figurine featured here.
Although the featured figurine in our museum is not for sale, we do have many wonderful Royal Doulton figurines available for purchase from our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!