The Life and Career of Clarice Cliff

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Clarice Cliff’s career in pottery started at the tender age of 13, which gave her a long grounding in establishing her own pottery. Clarice Cliff is now an iconic brand recognised by everyone.

Clarice Cliff was born in Tunstall, and at 13 began working in the local pottery industry. After several different jobs at various potbanks, in 1913 she moved to A J Wilkinson’s Newport pottery in Burslem. She also enrolled to the Burslem School of Art night school, where she studied art and sculpture.

The factory joint owner at that time was Arthur Colley Austin Shorter, who was introduced to the talented Clarice Cliff. He nurtured her talents, sending her to the Royal College of Arts and later, in 1940, married her.

A Clarice Cliff Wilkinson Fantasque bowl decorated in a Picasso fruit Melon design, sold at auction by Potteries Auctions

Lot 64 – A Clarice Cliff Wilkinson Fantasque bowl decorated in a Picasso fruit Melon design, sold for 90 at our March 2018 Antique, Rare Pottery and Fine Art Sale. 

Now aged 25, she was given a second apprenticeship contract at A J Wilkinson’s, and her own decorating studio where she began to decorate her own Bizarre range of brightly colour traditional shaped pieces that began to sell very well. Her studio grew because of rising demand for her pottery, and by 1929 there were 70 young painters working at the new bigger decorating studio, mainly girls, who came to be known as her Bizarre girls.

The factory also produced a series of colour advertising leaflets which was very unusual at that time. These were sent out to stockists and traders to promote her wares and, as sales started to boom, she then brought in other ranges of designs, such as the Appliqué range which had 14 patterns including Avignon, Windmill, Red Tree, Idyll, Palermo, Blossom, Caravan, Bird of Paradise, Etna, Garden, Eden and Monsoon.

The Fantasque range evolved between 1928 and 1934 and mainly featured abstracts or landscapes of cottages and trees, with the bestselling trees and house design and red autumn trees designs which were done in many colour variations. These brightly coloured designs were put on Clarice Cliff's new shapes of conical sifters, Bon Jour art deco shaped tea ware, Liner vase and many more iconic shapes.

Through the depths of depression that was all around during the 1930s, Clarice Cliff wares remained in high demand and sales continued to boom. Spearheaded by Colley Shorter, there were strong sales in prestige stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, Warring and Gillow and John Lewis to name a few, and her wares were exported to countries such as America, Canada, Australia, South Africa.

A Clarice Cliff three-piece teaset decorated in the Solomons Seal design, sold at auction by Potteries Auctions

Lot 129 – A Clarice Cliff three-piece teaset decorated in the Solomons Seal design, sold for £500 at our July 2018 Antique, Rare Pottery and Fine Art Sale. 

Her worldwide impact was made clear by a story in the Pasadena Evening Post in California. It pictured her with a five-foot high horse made entirely of Bizarre ware which had been made to promote the ware in Britain. It was in this article that she made her quote: "Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist, and people who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by innocent tomfoolery."

In the late 1930s, tastes changed and heavily modelled ware came into vogue. The My Garden series issued from 1934 onwards led the way, with small flowers modelled as a handle or base on more rounded shapes. These were fully painted in bright colours and the body of the ware was covered in thin colour washes – 'Verdant' was green, 'Sunrise' yellow and so on. The range included vases, bowls, jugs, a biscuit barrel and dishes and proved very popular as gift ware. It was produced in more muted colours too, right until the start of the war in 1939. These wares today are very affordable. At auction, single items only tend to make around the £30/40 mark, whereas the Bizarre, Fantasque and Applique pieces fetch hundreds of, and in some cases several thousand, pounds as collectors compete for the rarer designs.

A Clarice Cliff Newport Pottery vase decorated in the Forest Glen design, and A Clarice Cliff Wilkinson Bizarre Jug (restored), both sold at auction by Potteries Auctions

Lot 117 -  A Clarice Cliff Newport Pottery vase decorated in the Forest Glen design, sold for £140 at our March 2018 Antique, Rare Pottery and Fine Art Sale, and Lot 121 – A Clarice Cliff Wilkinson Bizarre Jug (restored), sold for £230 at our Auction of 20th Century British Pottery including Royal Doulton, Beswick, Militaria & Collectors items back in March 2014. 

If you have some Clarice Cliff pieces that you would like to auction, get in touch and we can help you with a valuation.  Talk to our team of experts who will be able to give you an accurate auction estimate on vases, dinnerware and other Clarice Cliff pieces.  You can join us at one of our valuation days, email us for an appointment [email protected]  or call us on +44 (0)1782 638100 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. 

Email Valuations

If you can't come in and see us in person send us an email to [email protected] with details and a photograph (eg make, model, model number, measurements, condition) and one of our experts will provide information and auction estimates. Alternatively, give us a call on 01782 638100 to arrange an appointment.

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