Exploring the ceramic collection

Daphne is a piece created in 2005 by Claire Curneen, a modern sculptural ceramist. She has won awards in the USA, Italy, and Korea. With her solo exhibition UK tour generated by the Ruthin Craft Centre, and regular appearances within craft magazines, she is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated sculptural ceramists of the modern era, both in Britain and internationally.


Taking inspiration from Italian and Flemish Renaissance images, Curneen’s work is deeply personal as her style changes with her anxieties. For example, after coming out of a difficult period, she added new and more uplifting techniques to her pieces, such as printed flowers similar to those on Chinese ceramics, displaying her more upbeat mood. Though her more recent pieces have experimented with such techniques, her key themes of spirituality, martyrdom, and self-sacrifice have remained the same.


Curneen’s work often depicts rather visceral scenes which portray human figures in porcelain. Porcelain allows her to subvert the narrative, with gold usually associated with bone china being used as the blood of those who sacrificed themselves for some greater good.


In the story of Daphne, Apollo, God of healing and medicine, insulted Eros (also known as Cupid), the God of lust and love. In retaliation, Eros struck Apollo with a golden arrow forcing him to fall in love with Daphne, a tree nymph and the daughter of Peneus. He simultaneously struck Daphne with an arrow made of lead, making her despise Apollo. Apollo chased Daphne until she came to her father’s river as she wanted his help. To keep her safe, Peneus turned her into a Laurel tree.  Apollo, devastated, made a crown from its Laurels and made the tree itself immortal, swearing its leaves would never go brown. Curneen’s piece portrays the transformation of Daphne into a Laurel tree, which went on to symbolize glory, triumph and the end of conflict.


The use of gold blood is also a metaphor for the interior of a person being more important than the external, which is why her pieces are hollow with no glazing inside, revealing the surface within. In previous pieces such as ‘Falling Slowly’ and ‘St. Sebastian,’ gold has been said to represent blood, giving the gold tipped, sharp branches wrapped around the figure of ‘Daphne’ a more macabre meaning. The story of Daphne, though not originating from Christianity like the majority of Curneen’s work, is indicative of the key elements of her work. Having the figure engulfed by sharp branches allows the viewer to experience those overwhelming emotions which appear in the majority of her pieces. The fact that Daphne is a dryad (tree nymph) also ties to her motif of figures being tied to the earth.

Written by Georgia Little, The Blue Coat School