The French Art Deco style dates from around 1920. Popularized internationally by the well-attended Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925, it reached its peak in that year. Although Art Deco design was inspired by and utilized elements from non-Western cultures such as Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, and Persian designs, its proponents considered themselves Modern artists.
The dramatic, stylized approach characteristic of the Art Deco style saw its greatest expression in the decorative arts and architecture. In the field of ceramics, French art potters such as René Buthaud, Émile Lenoble, and Émile Decoeur dominated the international Art Deco scene.
Buthaud trained as a painter at the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux. He began working in ceramics in 1919 and continued into the 1960s. Buthaud’s ceramic designs possess a sensuality and an abstract geometricizing that reflect his early training in painting and his awareness of popular modern painting styles such as Cubism.
The Art Museum’s bowl illustrates Buthaud's painterly approach to ceramics: he treats the surface of the bowl like a canvas. A thick black glaze depicts the sinuous but simplified and abstract form of a nude mermaid. This piece represents Buthaud’s best-known work: earthenware bowls and vases in simple, massive shapes, decorated with stylized images of nude female figures, foliage, and geometric forms.