Clarice Cliff (1899-1972) remains one of the best-known names of the auction world, celebrated for her visionary talent and innovative entrepreneurship in a patriarchal industry..
While Clarice came from humble origins growing up in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, she learnt a strong work ethic from her parents and never allowed her ambition to be dimmed by her socio-economic circumstances. Having discovered her talent making papier-mache models for a local ceramic company, she began work in the pottery industry in earnest as just 13 years of age, beginning as a gilder and learning free-hand painting. It was her move to A. J. Wilkinson in Burslem in 1916 that would prove crucial to Cliff’s development from talented apprentice to artistic director as she eskewed the normal practice of concentrating on one single area of the production process, rather taking on the tasks of every department including modelling, enamelling and banding to broaden her skills and her remit.
After her prodigious and multi-faceted skill was made known to the factory owners Cliff was pulled out of the main production line and given her own studio, Newport, in which to experiment with rejected white wares; what followed was the birth of her “Bizarre” range, a ground-breaking series of pottery decorated in vibrant over-glaze enamels which, to the surprise of her employers, proved exceptionally popular with the buying public. Cliff had captured the aesthetic zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties with her shapes becoming more and more pronouncedly Art Deco in design as the decade progressed with the decoration chanelling the geometric and cubist movements which were emerging on the Continent, such as her “Ravel” pattern applied on the wonderfully angular “Conical” shape wares.
The 1930s saw a shift into more profusely coloured wares with the “Fantasque” range which incorporated landscapes and cottages into the patterns, albeit still very much with an Art Deco influence. The first half of the decade saw Cliff at the peak of her powers with Harrods and other top retailers offering her wares in-store, strong sales in North America, Australia and New Zealand as well as leading the ‘Artists in Industry’ project promoting tableware designs which involved such names as Barbara Hepworth, Duncan Grant and Dame Laura Knight. While Cliff would never recapture these heights with the later advent of WWII and its aftereffects for the British economy, her legacy as a creative visionary and ingenious entrepreneur still burn bright.
The value of Clarice Cliff at auction is very much dependent on period of production, shape, pattern and condition, with the strongest Art Deco examples such as “May Avenue” pattern chargers or “Age of Jazz” table centrepieces achieving five-figure sums. Wilson55 boast an excellent record with Clarice Cliff, having sold a rare pair of “Inspiration Persian” pattern vases for £2,600, a “Lotus” jug for £1,800 and a “Forest Glen” charger for £1,700. We welcome enquiries regarding the valuation and potential consignment of works by Clarice Cliff in our Modern Art & Design auctions.
Our specialist Modern Art & Design auctions are held four times a year and cover a wide selection of furniture, studio pottery, ceramics, glass, print & multiples, paintings and more. For a free, confidential auction valuation of your collection, to enquire about any of our lots or to enter your own collection into one of our specialist sales, get in touch: email@example.com or fill in our online valuation form below.
Auctioneer and valuer specialising in Modern Design. James has recently returned to the North West after spending the last few years as a valuer in Scotland, during that time James also featured on Paul Martin's Auction Showdown for Channel 5 as a 'Rival Auctioneer'.