The Norwich Society

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Skipper's (and Neatby's) Royal Arcade

Category: Articles of Interest

The most strikingly art nouveau building in Norwich is George Skipper’s Royal Arcade, built on the site of the old Royal Hotel, which was reincarnated by Edward Boardman as the new Arts and Crafts-influenced Royal Hotel on Agricultural Hall Plain.

The most strikingly art nouveau building in Norwich is George Skipper’s Royal Arcade, built on the site of the old Royal Hotel, which was reincarnated by Edward Boardman as the new Arts and Crafts-influenced Royal Hotel on Agricultural Hall Plain.

Neatby’s arcade at Back of the Inns was also built on the site of the former Angel Inn, commemorated by the Doulton Ware angel at the top of the eastern gable-end of the arcade. Skipper was to be applauded for the imaginative way he disguised the fact that the arcade had to be angled along a non-linear site but it was William James Neatby – the head of Sir Henry Doulton’s architectural department at Doulton Lambeth – who deserves the plaudits for the jewel-like decoration. It was Neatby’s colourful tiles that were described, ‘like a fragment from the Arabian Nights’.

WJ Neatby was an experimental potter responsible for developing Doulton’s Carraraware – a tough white marble-like material that clad the external faces of the arcade. The internal surfaces were covered with Parian ware, often used for statuary, but in this case used for moulding the brightly coloured tiles of peacocks and other art nouveau motifs. Perhaps the most attractive images are various versions of a young woman who – in the spandrels of the central light well – holds an orange circle, arms outstretched.

However, in the Proceedings of the Society of Designers ca. 1900, Neatby’s original sketches reveal that the blank orange circle originally held a sign of the zodiac, Leo.

About 1899, in Brooklyn USA, a young photographer named Zaida Ben-Yusuf, was also toying with such an image and her probable self-portrait shows a woman, in similar profile, holding a pomegranate. In the 2016 Tate exhibition, Painting with Light, Ben-Yusuf’s work was suggested to be referencing Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s painting of Proserpine, the Empress of Hades who sampled the forbidden fruit.

Rosetti’s image is, however, not the direct model for Neatby’s tiled panel. Instead, Neatby’s young woman holding the sign of Leo in his sketch may well have been modelled on posters designed by a luminary of the art nouveau genre whose works were sweeping Europe.

Alphonse Mucha’s well known image of a young woman in profile and wearing a headdress is actually titled ‘Zodiac’ while his ‘Salome’ illustrates the woman-and-wheel motif that was surely part of the mood that Neatby and Ben-Yusuf were channelling .

For the full story read my two blogs in Colonel Unthank’s Norwich:
http://wp.me/p71GjT-1C1
http://wp.me/p71GjT-3Zt