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Lucie Rie the grande dame of ceramics

She was undoubtedly one of the most significant female ceramic artists of our time

Great Britain London

Free-lance ceramist - Member of IAC, the International Academy of Ceramics

Stadtschlaining Austria

Petra Lindenbauer


I would like to begin my contribution to this inaugural issue of "MATRES- EARTH-MONDS- VISIONS " not only by stating that Lucie Rie was one of the most important ceramicists, but by expressing my personal admiration for this woman, one of the most significant ceramic artists of our time. I have always felt a deep, special connection with her. Her works have deeply attracted my attention since I was still a teenager when I first became interested in ceramics. Later, in 1999, her work was shown in Vienna in a magnificent exhibition for the first time since her emigration to England in 1938, despite the fact that she had never wanted her work to be shown in Vienna during her lifetime. Coincidentally, I now live in the eastern part of Austria, near the Hungarian border, where Lucie spent much of her time visiting her grandparents and escaping the hot temperatures of Vienna in the summer.
During my research to learn more about Lucie Rie and her life, I discovered many of her sympathetic traits, e.g., when she lived in England she missed her strong Austrian coffee to which she was addicted, was happy seeing her nice and full sales clerk book, and never lost her Viennese accent.
She had been born in 1902 under the name Lucie Gomperz into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna growing up in a rather exciting period, where the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) and the Wiener Werkstätte were renewing the style of the younger generation, leaving behind the gloomy and rigid historicizing style of the 19th century. It was the time when psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was working on the power of the unconscious in human beings and the interpretation of dreams. It was the period of painters like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele and composers like Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg. In fact, this period marked throughout Europe the beginning of the era of abstraction. Lucie Rie opened her first studio when she was only 23 years old, as a student at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts). Soon enough she developed a unique style and a passion for some very simple forms with essential lines and sophisticated surfaces. This urban style was in stark contrast to the colorful and opulent works of many famous artists at that time in Vienna and also differed strongly from that of Bernard Leach's earthy rustic works, which were popular in England at the time.
Unlike the works produced by his contemporaries, Lucie's works are more architectural, and one could actually capture the spirit of the simplicity of modernist buildings. In her own way, Lucie's approach was revolutionary. Moreover, she always attached great importance to form, following architect Adolf Loos' dictum on the sparing and appropriate use of decoration. In 1908, Loos proclaimed that architectural ornament "was a crime," relating to Louis Sullivan's expression "form follows function," which is probably one of the most significant principles of modern architecture.
At the end of the 19th century, the popularity of Japanese art and design spread among many Western European artists reached Vienna, where many paintings by Gustav Klimt expressed this considerable influence. One could see a relationship between Lucie Rie's work and Japanese ceramics, also in relation to her close contact with Bernard Leach in later times. Architect and designer Josef Hoffmann, co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte, discovered Lucie Rie's extraordinary talent quite early. He even took her first work to the famous Palais Stoclet in Brussels, the building he had designed in collaboration with Gustav Klimt and many artists from the Wiener Werkstätte. After graduation Lucie also presented her works in London, Milan, and Paris. After her marriage to Hans Rie, Lucie further established herself as a ceramist extraordinaire. In 1937, Josef Hofmann chose 70 of her pieces to be presented at the Paris World's Fair and even designed a special "corridor showcase" to display Lucie's works. Unfortunately, the event was overshadowed by the Great Depression and the threat of global war. During this event Pablo Picasso's Guernica was shown to visitors to indict the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. During this difficult period, Lucie Rie-Gomperz's career unfortunately came to an abrupt end. As a Jew, she was forced to emigrate to England in 1938 due to racial laws.
Although she won many prizes in numerous international exhibitions in England, in her new homeland Lucie was a fairly unknown person. She rented a garage and opened a studio near Hyde Park, which then had to close during the war. However, she was able to continue working in the glassblowing workshop of a friend of hers, who had also emigrated from Vienna. Lucie Rie began to design jewelry and her famous buttons, which were used in the late 1980s by Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, who was her close friend. She often invited many people to her studio and was famous for serving her visitors tea and cakes. During the 50 years of her presence in the atelier, the space remained largely unchanged. Later, the atelier was moved and rebuilt in the ceramics gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In 1945, Hans Coper, a German immigrant, came into her life. This relationship had a profound effect on her; Lucie and Hans became intellectual and artistic partners. She hired the young man who had no experience in pottery to help her bake buttons. Lucie sent him to a potter who taught him how to make pots on a potter's wheel. Hans Coper became a partner in Lucie Rie's atelier. Together they produced many elegant and functional ceramics that were sold in the most important department stores in London and New York. Hans Coper remained with her until she opened her own studio in Hertfordshire in 1958; however, their friendship and collaboration continued until Coper's death in 1981.
After going through difficult times Lucie managed to bring out all her creative and ingenious spirit. She also often endured harsh criticism from Bernard Leach, considered the father of British studio ceramics. They were friends and she was impressed by his views. Despite his brief influence and criticism, Lucie's delicate modernist ceramics were clearly distinguished from Leach's subdued, rustic work.
Lucie Rie's work was further recognized in many exhibitions and received numerous prestigious awards after a retrospective of her work at the Arts Council Gallery in St. James' Square in 1967, where Bernard Leach expressed his great respect for her artistic creation.
In 1981 Lucie Rie's work was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and in 1994 at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In Japan, architect Tadao Ando designed a giant rectangular pool for the exhibition "Issey Miyake meets Lucie Rie," inside which her ceramics seemed to float. In 1991, after teaching at the Camberwell School of Art from 1960 to 1971, Lucie Rie was awarded the title "Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire." Her ceramic work ended in 1990, after suffering the first in a series of strokes. She passed away at her home in London on April 1, 1995 at the age of 93. During her lifetime Lucie Rie was interested in experimenting and developing new glazes for materials such as stoneware and porcelain. She further optimized the single-firing process so that glaze could be applied to the raw piece. He often applied glaze by brush while the clay was still raw and unfired. This unique approach resulted in surfaces and textures that appear more vivid and alive. From the late 1940s onward, Lucie Rie began using the graffiti technique, inspired by those Bronze Age Avebury vessels. She often decorated her pieces with delicately etched lines, using metal needles. Today we speak of Lucie Rie's "quiver," which pervades the surfaces of rustic and sometimes tenuously toned pieces. Lucie Rie has always considered herself an artisan. Her way of interacting with clay creates pieces of a fascinating and subtle simplicity, as if they did not belong in this world.
Poet and critic Christopher Reid described Lucie Rie's work as having "unparalleled beauty, strength, subtlety and eloquence...her vases and bowls are like metaphysical poems, animated by...tensions." Issey Miyake said, "The charm of her work lies in the warmth and nostalgia of manual labor that floods our hearts. Each of Lucie's pieces gives us a sense of the origin of her creation; each exists in a world of its own, neither in the East nor in the West."



Lucie Rie, Oil and vinegar pourers, stoneware, 1950s and raised Bowl, 1960s, porcelain with manganese glaze.

Pouring vase, c. 1958, stoneware.

Raised bowl, c. 1970s, porcelain with manganese gold and earthenware glaze.
Photograph by Stuart Burford; images courtesy of Erskine, Hall & Coe.

Studio in London, 18 Albion Mews, near Hyde Park.

Bottle vase,1990, Oxford Ceramics Gallery.

Lucie Rie working in her studio in London.