Apr 11, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
There are many amazing ceramic artists in the vintage realm and the turn of the century was a time of particular creativity and exploration. From work by the Rhead family to Stangl artware, new techniques and patterns were being sought. Clarice Cliff is widely recognized as one of the great ceramic minds of the Art Deco period, ushering in a lot of the innovation we see during this era. Join us as we learn more about her work and influences.
Born in January 1899, Cliff left school at the tender age of 13 and studied enamel and lithography until age 16. She put this training to work during the first World War, helping out in the decorating department at A.J. Wilkinson. It was during this time that she began to enjoy clay as a medium. Her keen eye for design got her noticed and before long Cliff was developing new patterns during the firm’s acquisition of Newport Pottery.
Using the poor construction of the Newport pieces as her inspiration, Cliff transformed the drab wares using bright colors (often orange and black) and simple geometries. This pattern was known as the Bizarre Line. Debuting in 1928 it was the toast of the town until the end of its run in 1936. With her collections being noticed, she took some time to continue her studies at the Royal College of Art in London and Paris. Fresh off the heels of academia, Cliff created the Crocus pattern and worked to refine her approach.
Cliff was known for her use of enamels, glazes, freestyle designs, and innovative shapes. She used a simple number system to catalog the shapes as they were prepped for painting. This level of efficiency helped make her pieces more marketable, but her desire for adaptability didn’t end there. Cliff often inverted older shapes to make new forms, with one of the most popular examples being the Lotus jug.
Stylistically, Cliff’s work is known for its expressed glazing lines. Common themes included nature, geometry, cottages, and elegant ladies in beautiful settings. She played with moving the viewer’s eye across the piece and liked to use horizontal banding to organize the composition. She cited Picasso as an influence, but remained grounded to material realities. Ever the resourceful and imaginative designer, she remained true to maximizing the dramatic potential of pottery. Indeed, her later work is known for its outrageous color combinations.
Her work was not limited to plates or cups alone. Cliff created pitchers and jugs in a variety of shapes and often the brushstrokes are overdone to showcase their hand-panted nature. Tea and coffee services were also part of Cliff’s work. The tea sets included a teapot, cream pitcher, sugar bowl, two cups with saucers, and a serving plate. Coffee services would serve six or eight guests. Distinct geometries were used in her plate designs, including hexagonal and round shapes. Her vases were very popular and took on many forms, but most incorporated trees in their designs. Home accessories like ash trays, wall plaques, figurines, candle holders, and centerpieces were also part of her product offerings.
Cliff passed away in 1972, leaving a grand legacy of stunning work that captivates collectors to this day. Due to her prominence, many forgeries are in the marketplace. The orange roof cottage lotus jug is among her most copied works. The fake jug will have reflections in the windows and a bridge that is not to proportion. The key to telling fake apart from real is mainly in the color. By in large, forgeries have colors that are too bright. If you have a piece that you would like to have evaluated, you may reach out to the Clarice Cliff Collectors Group.
Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: “Clarice Cliff & Her Contemporaries: Susie Cooper, Keith Murray, Charlotte Rhead & the Carlton Designers” by Helen C. Cunningham, Clarice Cliff Collectors, and the people who post their imagery without restriction.
For our readers: Who is your favorite between the two: Clarice Cliff or Charlotte Rhead? Do you collect Cliff pottery? Please share any tips or comments with the community belong!