Bizarre Art Deco China
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When you think about art deco china, chances are that the name Clarice Cliff will be one of the first to spring to mind. Cliff brought something brand new to the dinner table that had become way too dour for it's own good. Her ground breaking British-made pottery designs from the '30s were astonishingly colourful.
When she was just 14, Cliff went to work as a painter for a local pottery in England. In 1916, she joined the firm of A. J. Wilkinson and remained there for the rest of her life. Cliff married the firm's owner, Colley Shorter and after his death in 1963 sold the factory and retired to her home in Newcastle. She died in 1972.
Cliff has been called a "cozy genius" and prices for her mass-market tableware continue to soar. When Christie's in South Kensington offered Cliff pottery for the first time in 1989, hundreds of people showed up for the auction.
Today, Clarice Cliff wares are still highly collectible and as you would expect fakes do crop up. They are often produced from moulds with shapes similar to the originals, but are falsely marked and often badly painted.
It's important to remember that Cliff only produced wares for A. J. Wilkinson's and its subsidiary Newport Pottery. Later pieces are often marked Royal Staffordshire Pottery. Midwinter and Wedgwood also produced some of the legitimate reproductions.
"Colour seems to radiate happiness and the spirit of modern life," Cliff said. She used colour as a signature theme in her tableware. The pottery reeked of lightness and unlimited possibility. Cliff liked the term "Bizarre Ware" for her colourful, strong-lined, hand-painted geometrical designs and her team of female painters were even called "The Bizarre Girls."
When the 20th century arrived, stiff dinner parties with servants waiting to tidy up were fast becoming a thing of the past. Silver, which demanded constant polishing and delicate china which seemed to chip at the turn of a hand didn't make much sense either. The modern world demanded modern tableware in step with the times and Cliff responded with over 350 new patterns including over 20 teapots.
Bizarre and bold they were, tableware unlike anything on the market and it wasn't long before Cliff's vases, bowls, tea and dinner sets were sold in top department stores both at home and in countries like America and Australia.
"Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist," Cliff said. "People who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by a little innocent tomfoolery." Cliff was heralded for brightening up the world of the bored housewife. During an era of economic hardship, her business thrived.