Clarice Cliff is a Potteries born and bred artist whose popular Art Deco designs of the 1930’s are fetching huge amounts of cash at auction.
One of the rarer pieces was sold for £40,000 recently.
LAUNCHED in 1927, few would have predicted the evergreen appeal of the bright and bold Bizarre ware.
It was produced by a female workforce at Newport Pottery in Middleport and Cliff created more than 700 designs during her lifetime, with the majority spanning the 20s and 30s. Many pieces originally sold for less than £1.
Cliff’s big, bold, bright patterns were known as “happy china” and her innovative art deco ware now attracts more interest than ever
Clarice Cliff was born in 1899 in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent – the fourth of eight children. She showed early skill in art, and recalled enjoying art lessons at school.
At 13 she began work as an apprentice enameller. A few years later she moved to A J Wilkinson’s, where her flair for art was picked up.
In 1927 she was sent for six months to the Royal College of Art in Kensington, and when she returned she was given a studio and assistants.
In 1928 an experimental series was produced, organised by Colley Shorter, using modern geometric shapes and bold colours. Called ‘Bizarre Ware’, it was an instant hit!
In 1930 she was made Art Director of the company, and by 1931 she was overseeing 1000 workers, including her team of all female painters who were called The Bizarre Girls.
In the 1930s the business expanded as demand for Clarice Cliff china increased, and patterns varied to suit changing fashions. Her designs were copied all over the world in her heyday, as far afield as Japan.
In 1940 Clarice married Colley Shorter, the Managing Director of the firm. They travelled extensively, trying to promote A J Wilkinson goods throughout the wartime restrictions on pottery production, and so she designed less herself.
In 1961 Colley became ill, and he died two years later. Clarice decided to retire, and sold the company, leaving no successor.
She was acknowledged by the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1971 as an influential Art Deco artist, and in 1972 she died in her own home, where she was discovered by her gardener as she listened to the radio.
The many Cliff reproductions and fakes can usually be distinguished by their inferior colour and design.
The fakes currently doing the rounds in antiques markets are 12-inch lotus-shaped jugs. They can be easily identified, as the handle has a blow hole at the bottom — a sign it is hollow cast — whereas Cliff’s handles were all solid.
Clarice Cliff Key Dates
- 1899 – born in Tunstall
- 1912 – first began work in the pottery industry
- 1927/28 – first series of pottery called Bizarre Ware produced
- 1930 – became Art Director of A J Wilkinson’s
- 1940 – married Colley Shorter, Managing Director of A J Wilkinson’s
- 1963 – retired after she became a widow
- 1972 – died at home