Lucie Rie. A book by Isabella Smith

A new book on Lucie Rie’s life is explored through her extraordinary work by Isabella Smith – this new title has been just published by Eiderdown Books as part of their Modern Women Artists series of collectable books.

A rich and detailed journey into Lucie Rie’s life. Often regarded as the Godmother of modern ceramics, Lucie Rie is one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
A master of glazes with vibrant colours, her style and way to utilise clay was innovative and avangarde: not from the past, not for the future. Just the way she was: in ‘her’ now.

Today, as Rie’s pots smash international auction records, interest in this émigré artist and icon of modern ceramic art – continues to grow.

In this new title by Eiderdown Books, Isabella Smith is exploring Lucie Rie’s work and life: an excursus from her early years in Vienna, to her life in London – going through the war days and the ‘forced relocation’ from Vienna to London. “Escape from Vienna also held all the possibilities of a new beginning”. And in the search for the right abode, Rie found herself “in a mews on the north side of Hyde Park – at that time a run-down backwater – she spotted a garage with a small, one-bed flat above. She would live and work at 18 Albion Mews for the rest of her life”.

She was indeed a ‘Metropolitan Potter’, with her work shown in several London galleries and through her pots – a firm favourite on wedding gift lists. It was Bernard Leach who introduced Rie to the Heal’s team – and they became buyers – as Liberty and the Bendick’s café chain. But not much time left to experiment with one-off and unique work back then. Rie later called this period of hard graft the ‘cabbage days’ – also creating buttons at Orplid, to make ends meet. When the Soho workshop was bombed, Rie began making ceramic buttons in her own small studio instead.

By the 1950s, her intentionally flawed and experimental glazed designs had become popular British domestic wares. Her signature sgraffito technique and later ‘flared-lip’ vases, thrown in two parts then joined together, are now among her most recognisable work – and have achieved iconic status.

Over the next decade, Rie’s profile grew and grew: her work was exhibited as far afield as Holland, Japan, Australia and Germany, despite her misgivings. Austria was a step too far, however: ‘You can do it when I’m dead.’ – using Lucie Rie’s words.

It was at 64 years old, after almost 40 years of potting, that an exhibition came about which consolidated her work. Lucie Rie: A retrospect­ive exhibition of earthenware, stoneware and porcelain 1926– 1967 by The Arts Council and at its London premises with nothing less than 300 pieces of work.

“Dignity and elegance were defining qualities both of the woman, always dressed in white despite the muck and mess of a pottery studio, and of the work.”

By 1990, despite her advancing age, Rie maintained a fear- some work routine that began at 5.30am and ended in the early evening. ‘What else should I do?’, she said. ‘I am a potter.

About the Author
Isabella Smith has been immersed in ceramic art since 2014, when she began working as a research assistant for a private collector of British art pottery. After an art history MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art, she worked as an assistant editor at Ceramic Review magazine, and is now deputy editor at the Crafts Council’s magazine, Crafts.

Book details
Lucie Rie by Isabella Smith
£ 10.99 – 64 page hardback with 30 illustrations
Published by Eiderdown Books, 14 September 2022

Photo Credits:
Cover: Porcelain footed bowl with pink inlaid radiating lines, turquoise and manganese bands, c.1978, by Lucie Rie – Photograph: © Phillips Auctioneers Limited.

This article is based on the Book Review Column I am curating for the London Potters Magazine.

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