Art Deco: Clarice Cliff

One of the UK's most prolific and important ceramicists, Clarice Cliff is best known for her innovative, colour-rich designs, many of which are in our collections. The Art Deco movement had a major influence on her work and her commercial success.

Cliff's first productions were called 'Bizarre', and were decorated with crude, bright colours. Bizarre Ware was an immediate success, as the designs – with their abstract, geometric and figural forms – were in the popular Art Deco style and were inexpensive. In the following years, Cliff added hundreds of patterns to the original range.

Bizarre
Bizarre (details), plate, designed by Clarice Cliff, manufactured by Newport Pottery Co. Ltd, 1928, UK. Museum no. C.75-1976. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In 1928 Cliff produced a simple, hand-painted pattern of crocus flowers in orange, blue and purple. Each flower was composed with upward brush strokes, then green leaves added, by holding the piece upside down and painting thin lines among the flowers. The 'Crocus' pattern was clearly completely hand-painted, which instantly attracted large sales. It became Cliff's signature design.

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Crocus, cream jug, designed by Clarice Cliff, manufactured by Newport Pottery Co. Ltd, 1928, UK. Museum no. CIRC.674-1975. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cliff was given a team of paintresses to work on 'Crocus'. By the late 1920s, amid economic recession, her career was excelling. She and her team were appropriating the Art Deco aesthetic for the domestic setting, creating striking factory ceramics – plates, jugs, teapots, cups and saucers – that were designed to be used in the home.

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Inspiration Caprice, plate, designed by Clarice Cliff, manufactured by Newport Pottery Co. Ltd, 1929 – 31, UK. Museum no. C.71-1976. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

'Sunray' is a vivid example of Cliff's Art Deco sensibility. The sunray, or sunburst, with its evocation of joy and nature, was a popular Deco motif, which featured everywhere from windows to hotel foyers. Cliff wisely took on this easily abstracted image and adapted it to bold effect, using enamel paint on earthenware.

Sunray
Sunray (front and back), vase, designed by Clarice Cliff, manufactured by Newport Pottery Co. Ltd, 1929, UK. Museum no. C.74-1976. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In the late 1920s, Cliff also began placing emphasis on the shapes of her pottery, finding different ways to best display her designs. From her triangular teacup handles to the distinctive conical form of her sugar casters, she looked again to Art Deco, and its fascination with the geometric rhetoric of Cubist art.

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Conical, coffee cup and saucer, designed by Clarice Cliff, manufactured by Newport Pottery Co. Ltd, 1929 – 31, UK. Museum no. C.173&A-1977. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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Conical, sugar caster, designed by Clarice Cliff, manufactured by Newport Pottery Co. Ltd, 1936, UK. Museum no. C.100-1988. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cliff's ceramics, with their distinctive shapes and appealing, bright colours, brought modernity to the kitchen sink. In the 1970s and 1980s their popularity was revived, leading to worldwide collectability, and establishing Cliff as one of the key names of the Art Deco movement.

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Bizarre, poster, 1987, UK. Museum no. E.210-1991. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Find out more about Art Deco in the home