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Clarice Cliff - Art Deco Queen or Clown?

Nic Saintey, Head of the Glass and Ceramics Department, considers the work of Art Deco potter Clarice Cliff and her iconic pottery that just seems to capture the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s.

A pair of Clarice Cliff Autumn Balloon Trees candlesticks (FS13/360), circa 1932,
        which realised £580 in pottery auction of our January 2012 Fine Sale.

A pair of Clarice Cliff Autumn Balloon Trees candlesticks (FS13/360), circa 1932, which realised £580 in pottery auction of our January 2012 Fine Sale.

So often sculptors and artists can be seen as being out of touch with reality, but Clarice Cliff seems to be one of those that had her feet firmly on the ground.

Perhaps it was because she was one of eight 'working class' children who left school at thirteen and went to work in the Potteries shortly after.

Thankfully by 1917 her employer sent her to evening classes at Art School and ten years later she was studying sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London – it was this formal training that lead her to design the iconic forms of the Yo-yo vase and the conical shaped tea wares with their attractive, but unpractical, solid triangular handles.

A Clarice Cliff Coral Firs sugar sifter (FS13/362), circa 1934, which fetched £400 at auction.

A Clarice Cliff Coral Firs sugar sifter (FS13/362), circa 1934, which fetched £400 at auction.

However, as everyone knows, Clarice Cliff's real flair was for decorating pottery in her trademark bright colours. Her bold geometric and often abstract patterns just seemed to capture the so called Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s and the titles she gave these patterns conjured up the exotic and far flung with names such as Lugano, Luxor and Gibraltar or patterns such as Industry, Propeller, Zap and Cubist, which gave an air of being cutting edge.

An early Clarice Cliff Football vase, circa 1929.

An early Clarice Cliff Football vase, circa 1929.

There is also another reason why Clarice Cliff favoured bright and generously applied colours that to my mind resonates with our current recessional times. She was charged with recycling newly acquired undecorated bankrupt stock from a neighbouring factory and, by using her designs, she was not only able to make plain old fashioned ware ultra modern overnight, but was also able to cover any existing flaws under a blanket of riotous colour.

A Clarice Cliff Bobbins preserve pot (EX73/177), circa 1932.

A Clarice Cliff Bobbins preserve pot (EX73/177), circa 1932.

So for all of Clarice Cliff's sensibility and shrewd business acumen, she did have a playful sense of humour. Whilst she developed ranges entitled Inspiration and Applique that would be worthy of any designer worth their salt, who else would call their most popular product range Bizarre? And who else could conceive of the Bazooka horse - a comical creature constructed from Bizarre pottery that was wheeled up for fund raising and marketing purposes on a regular basis?

A Clarice Cliff Melon Picasso Fruit preserve pot, circa 1930 (EX73/175).

A Clarice Cliff Melon Picasso Fruit preserve pot, circa 1930 (EX73/175).

Tags

  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Clarice Cliff

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