Woman in Motion: Gray metal, Height 6 inches, unmarked. There is a Ronson label on one felt. Circa 1933.
It is difficult to identify these bookend ladies or the subject they are meant to portray, but we see a few possibilities.
An elegant hood ornament: The ladies resemble the hood ornaments on cars in the nineteen teens, twenties and thirties. A hood ornament was mounted on the front of the hood or on the exposed radiator cap of each car in order to identify the vehicle and provide a rakish touch to the car design. The ornaments were appropriately of Art Deco design, some were geometric constructions and others were streamlined animals or humans. All evoked speed and modernity. The bookend women certainly look as if they are speeding through the air, and might be driving into the future.
Rolls-Royce “Spirit of Ecstasy” Hood Ornament, designed by Charles Sykes.
Alternatively, the bookend woman would make an admirable figurehead for a ship. A figurehead was a decorative carved wooden figure attached to the prow of a ship. It represented grace, speed, and mobility, as well as the wealth and power of the owner. Figureheads largely disappeared by the beginning of the twentieth century, but maybe the bookend artist was inspired by them.
Figurehead of the Christian Radich: The full rigged Norwegian sailing ship Christian Radich (launched 1937) carried this figurehead. Photo by Garitzko.
Perhaps the bookend artist was not mimicking any object but rather symbolizing speed and beauty. This would be appropriate for Art Deco sculpture. Or, a more rarefied interpretation of the bookend woman could place her in the Futurist art style. Futurist art was meant to portray speed, dynamism, and power in accordance with the unfolding technological world. An example is Boccioni’s 1913 Futurist
sculptural figure entitled “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” and meant to illustrate abstract notions of speed and forceful dynamism.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. 1913 by Umberto Boccioni. Bronze. Museo del Novecento (1931 cast), Milan
All three of these interpretations of the bookends share the belief that the woman symbolizes motion and speed. We could easily add power and modernity to the symbolism.