A tall Vase with flaring lip, circa 1967
Stoneware, dolomite glaze, the mixed clays creating an integral cream spiral, impressed LR seal. In perfect condition with no damage or restoration.
'To make pottery is an adventure to me, every new work is a new beginning. Indeed I shall never cease to be a pupil. There seems to the casual onlooker little variety in ceramic shapes and designs. But to the lover of pottery there is an endless variety of the most exciting kind. And there is nothing sensational about it only a silent grandeur and quietness'
This vessel is a significant, early example of one of Rie's favourite and most characteristic techniques, the integral coloured spiral, which first appeared in 1967. By throwing pots from two different balls of coloured clays, pressed together but not mixed, a spiral pattern is made in the thrown pot and this is particularly clear if the potter uses very little water in the throwing. It is given a different quality in the turning and again affected in the firing, especially if the glaze is a pale one, which will be coloured by the ingredients of the darker clay. Although this simple device was not invented by her, Rie was the first modern artist to use it in Britain. Iconic examples of Rie's spiral decoration are much prized by collectors.
Rie has used one of her preferred techniques here and created surface interest in this vessel by adding metal oxides to the clay body so that they will bleed into the glaze. For darkened clay Lucie used either manganese copper oxide, cobalt or iron oxide and the metals in the clay affect the expansion and contraction rate when heat is applied. It was necessary to adjust the unaltered clay to match the oxided clay and Rie added felspar to the white clay to make a better integrated and stronger body.
In this vessel we see, Rie's distinctive practice of applying slips and glazes gradually with a brush, to create micro-variations in texture and depth, which in turn create a dramatic but subtle range of surface effects. Here the soft diffusion of colour, contains a carefully, controlled, volcanic texture.
This vessel also displays the uniqueness of Lucie's preferred process of raw-glazing her stonewares. There is no initial (bisque) firing of the clay so the glaze and body are matured at the same time, achieving an exceptional fusion. Technically, Firings were long and slow and involved a short period of sleep snatched between kiln adjustments.
This large, vessel has as a strong, clear, sculptural form. The flaring lip has the appearance of floating on the womb-shaped body acting as a container and support. It is incredible to consider that it was thrown on the wheel by such a petite, artist, and turned by her so that no throwing lines are left visible to disrupt the crisp, profile and smooth surfaces.
Lucie Rie was born in Vienna and worked in England, and was one of the most influential artist potters of the 20th century. The splendor of her works, which incorporated the innovative trends of the early 20th-century Europe that had been occurring in the fields including architecture, design and science, has never faded but has been continuing to raise its reputation even 15 years after her death. It was not until the Arts Council's retrospective exhibition in 1967 that she gained the official recognition she merited. A year later she was appointed OBE and received an Honorary Doctorate at the Royal College of Art.
Quietly spoken and still with a strong Viennese accent, Rie could be both alarming and delightful. Like her pots, Rie's small, trim figure carried a commanding presence. Her acute observation of contemporary work, of which for the most part she was highly critical, could make her seem forthright in her opinions, but these were always tinged with kindness and understanding
Janet Leach's recollection of Lucie Rie at the wheel reminds us that work in Rie's home-cum-studio is not work on the model of the commuter's externalised world of work. Leach relates with admiration how Rie could pot, converse graciously, and bake a cake simultaneously !
' If one should ask me whether I believe to be a modern potter or a potter of tradition I would answer, I don't know and I don't care. Art alive is always modern, not matter how old or young. Art theories have no meaning for me, beauty has. This is all my philosophy. I do not attempt to be original or different. Something which to describe I am not clever enough moves me to do what I do.'
Rie is admired for her sparing, clean-cut shapes and minimal decoration combined with a strong sense of form and a sensitive awareness of surface and texture. One of the most creative studio potters of this century, Rie leaves a legacy of work which will be admired and enjoyed for years to come.
What I love about this object is that with a hasty glance its main attributes are apparent and are perceived as distilled simplicity. However, every time I look at it I see something different and become aware that within this purity is complexity. This intricacy has been created and handled by a master who is able to harness it so that it is at ease and only revealed with attention. The form shifts subtly, but changes distinctly, with the perspective as does the composition of the colouring and glazes. The earth tones transform in different lights, alongside the juxtaposition of the dark and light tones. The intensity of the textural quality shifts with distance, and the density of the glazes only becomes apparent close up. This object is an outstanding example of ceramics as an art form, a medium which generally tends to be overlooked.
Private Collection, London
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