Dame Lucie Rie – A quick guide to her career

Dame Lucie Rie, DBE (March 16, 1902 – April 1, 1995) was an Austrian-born British studio potter whose works usually consist of hand-thrown pots, bottles, vases and bowl forms. Her creations are noteworthy for their Modernist forms and her use of bright colours and she was influenced by Neoclassicism, Jugendstil, modernism, and Japonism. Today her works are highly desired and fetch impressive prices in auction rooms around the world.

Dame Lucie Rie in her pottery studio
Dame Lucie Rie photographed in her London studio in 1989 by Lord Snowdon. Image credit via Instagram @ARMSTRONGJONES

Here we get to know the studio potter better and how she became a household name and the pioneer responsible for giving a new identity to the world of ceramics.

Rie was born in Vienna, Austria and had a liberal upbringing. She studied pottery under Michael Powolny at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule, a school of arts and crafts connected with the Wiener Werkstätte, in which she enrolled in 1922.

In 1937 in Rie won a silver medal at the Paris International Exhibition (the exhibition for which Pablo Picasso painted Guernica). In 1938, she fled Nazi Austria and emigrated to England, where she settled in London.

At first her modernist works were coolly received as the accepted style of ceramics for The UK at the time was rooted in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Overtime however her practice slowly gained notoriety and Rie had her first solo show as a potter in 1949, at the Berkeley Gallery in London.

In 1946, she hired Hans Coper, a young man with no experience in ceramics, to help her fire small clay objects, including jewellery and buttons which she sold to support herself during the war. One of her customers and close friend was the Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

Like Rie, Coper also came to Britain as émigrés fleeing the growing influence of the Nazis in Europe. Coper later become famed in his own right alongside Rie. Their best-known work differs dramatically, with Rie’s being less sculptural, while Coper’s was much more abstract, but also always functional. Rie and Coper exhibited together in 1948. Coper became a partner in Rie’s studio, where he remained until 1958.

Another well-known friend and influencers of Rie’s was Bernard Leach, one of the leading figures in British studio pottery in the mid-20th century. But despite his transient influence, her brightly coloured, delicate, modernist pottery stands apart from Leach’s subdued, rustic, oriental work.

Dame Lucie Rie stoneware cups and saucers
Dame Lucie Rie (1902-95), a stoneware cup and saucer c.1960. Sold for £2,000 at Roseberys Design: Decorative Arts 1860 to the present day auction on Tuesday 25 June, 2019

Rie taught at Camberwell College of Arts from 1960 until 1972.

In 1991, she was honoured with the title of Dame Commander (DCE). Besides this honourable award Rie also received several other awards for her work and exhibited with great success throughout her life. This included her work being displayed in in the Arts Council Retrospective of 1967, showed with Coper in Rotterdam in 1967 and Hamburg in 1972, and was given major exhibitions in Düsseldorf, West Germany, in 1978, and in London at Sainsbury Place and the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1981–82. Her work was seen in exhibitions in Japan as well.

Rie’s most popular creations are her vases and bowls, which is reflected in the auction records. Her Flaring footed bowl (c.1978) sold for £134,113 at Phillips, USA in 2016 and the Flower vase (c.1976) sold over double its estimate for £40,000 at Phillips UK in 2017.

Dame Lucie Rie tall stoneware vase
Dame Lucie Rie (1902-95), a tall stoneware vase c.mid 1960’s. Sold at Roseberys for £1,560 at Roseberys Design: Decorative Arts 1860 to the present day auction on Tuesday 25 June, 2019

In her sixty year-long career, Rie constantly upgraded and refined her craft-pottery, while inventing new shapes and effects which would become her trademarks.

This included experimenting a lot with glazes. Using the ceramic chemistry skills, she learnt while at school Rie produced a range of volcanic and textured glazes which became major characteristics in her work.

In the 60’s she added thick glazes to her ceramics. In the 70’s she introduced bolder colours such as hues of pinks and blue. She then experimented further producing more detailed designs, topping her creations off with delicate bronze rims.

Her perfectionism and eye for details enabled her creativity and precision to stand out from other potters. She gave new meaning and purpose to materials such as clay, stone, and minerals, by turning them into pieces of art. Unlike her contemporaries, she didn’t follow the strict lines of an aesthetic direction, but instead, was inspired by nature and the east, particularly Japan.

She also drew a lot of inspiration from Modernist architecture, in particular the designs of Josef Hoffmann. Adapting Hoffmann’s interest in metal and fabric, she made her pots minimal and spare in form, concentrating on deceptively simple-looking tall cylinders and rounded bowls, domestic in scale.

Rie died at home in London on April 1, 1995, aged 93. All the ceramics that she produced during her long career, from the domestic wares of the 50s or the eye-catching bronzed bowls of the 70s and 80s helped to elevate the position of ceramics to that of the fine arts. This would then pave the way for a later generation of artists, potters, ceramicists and makers – leaving behind her a rich ceramic legacy.

Today, her pottery is displayed in collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the York Art Gallery in the UK, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Jewish Museum in London, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and Paisley Museum in Scotland.

This article originally appeared on Roseberys’ website

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