Clarice Cliff at Bonhams

The finest single owner collection of Clarice Cliff Ceramics to ever come to the market will be offered in the Design 1860-1945 sale at Bonhams in New Bond Street on Wednesday 18 March 2009. The 100-piece collection was amassed by oilman, Sevi Guatelli.

clarice-cliff.jpgDesign 1860-1945 specialist, Natalie Evison, says,” This collection highlights Clarice Cliff’s distinct style of the art deco and early modernist periods, representing the very best of her bold abstract designs and shapes including many rare examples that have not been seen on the market for many years.”

Sevi Guatelli, a Swiss born oilman who married a Scotswoman and settled in Glasgow, fell in love with the work of Clarice Cliff and began to collect her work in the spring of 1990. The spark, which ignited his enthusiasm for Cliff, was initiated by his niece when she chose Clarice Cliff as a topic for a school project. Her enthusiasm became infectious and soon the thrill of the chase and the pleasure of learning and acquiring works became Guatelli’s pastime and investment. He says, “ Her work soon became my passion. Whenever I found myself away from the very different world of oil exploration I made my way to antique shops and auction houses where I might indulge this growing love and respect for her work.”

Clarice Cliff’s work made its impact at a time of economic hardship and turmoil. Her work exploded into the grey drab post First World War era with its vigorous, avant-garde design and flamboyant colour spectrum, lighting up shop windows and people’s lives. Guatelli explains that Clarice’s work was intended for the younger generation, who were ready to embark on a new way of life, with a lighter, freer approach to fashion and home ware. This in turn demanded a new functionality and mode of display and her wares fitted the bill exactly.

Coupled with the aesthetic of these bold and architectural works, Guatelli was also inspired with what Clarice Cliff represented as an individual. “It is because of this winning combination of imaginative, strongly coloured designs painted by young artists in a naïve style, and her extraordinary business acumen, that Clarice Cliff can be described and should be looked upon as one of Britain’s most successful Art Deco representatives and entrepreneurs. She was not only a revolutionary, she was a visionary.”

Clarice Cliff (1899-1972) was a pioneer in her work, her fresh and innovative designs were well ahead of their time during the 1920s and 30s, so much so that Clarice Cliff became a household name. In the1930’s, Clarice’s designs moved from her more familiar floral patterns, which were commercial at the time, to abstract designs which were very avant-garde. Many of the designs show Clarice’s appreciation of contemporary art trends, as some have a distinctly modernist aspect both in their decoration and design. Her style is captivating, spontaneous and fluid, representing bold visions and beliefs. Post impressionism influences the designs of Clarice’s work with the inspiration of artists such as Piet Mondrian and abstraction movements such as Cubism and De Stijl.

Clarice Cliff’s work seems to be derived from an interesting combination of nature and the modern world. The bright designs are distinct modernity, the bold outbreak of colour and the abstract designs that characterise Clarice Cliff all lend a contemporary spirit to today’s world of interiors.

This sale includes pieces from the highest level of collecting, important lots that will draw international interest. But the new generation of collectors who have had fewer opportunities in the past to acquire interesting works at attractive prices will also be attracted.

Highlights include :

‘Sunspots’ a rare Lotus vase, circa 1930 £8,000-12,000
This design is particularly rare as only 17 Sunspots designs are known to exist. In this sale Bonhams will be selling 11 out of 17 sunspots works.
‘Red Café’ a rare small Meiping vase, circa 1930 £8,000-12,000
‘Red Café’ a rare triangular section vase, circa 1930 £8,000-12,000
‘Football’ a rare Conical Tea for Two, circa 1930 £6,000-8,000
‘Football’ a rare Yo Yo vase , circa 1930 £7,000-9,000
A limited run of this architectural style, Yo Yo vases were put into production, making this a rare shape . In the sale, lots include Diamond, Football, Blue Firs and Broth.
Applique Blue Lugano’ a Conical coffee set for six, circa 1930 £6,000-8,000
‘Applique Windmill’ a Globe vase , circa 1930 £5,000-7,000
‘May Avenue’ a vase, circa 1930 £3,000-5,000
‘Diamonds’ a large vase, circa 1930 £3,500-4,500
‘Shark’s Teeth’ a lidded conical biscuit barrel, circa 1930 £2,500-3,500
‘Sliced Circle’ an Isis vase, circa 1930 £2,000-3,000
‘Oranges and Lemons’ a conical footed bowl, circa 1930 £1,500-2,000

Clarice Cliff was born in 1899 in Staffordshire and in her teens worked as a ceramic painter at the local factory of A J Wilkinson. She studied at Tunstall School of Art, Staffordshire, and later at the Royal College of Art, Kensington. Clarice began her typical bright designs in 1927, decorating the firm’s surplus stock. At first her daring china was sold at a factory store, however the popularity of the pieces even then meant that the ‘Bizarre’ range was sold in Selfridges and other department stores all over Britain. The pottery ranges were very popular, especially the Original Bizarre and the Crocus designs. The accessible and affordable pottery ranges were very popular, especially the floral designs, which were used daily in households all over Britain.

Clarice was effectively given free reign in the design of her Bizarre ware, an unprecedented role for a woman at that time. During the 1930s in the factory’s heyday Clarice headed a team of over forty ceramic painters, who were nicknamed the bizarre girls and boys, who were kept busy and remained true to creating artistic and imaginative works. In 1930 she was made Art Director of A. J.Wilkinson and in 1940 Clarice married her boss Colley Shorter.

Sevi Guatelli is the son of two artists, Roland and Lina. He graduated in Chemistry in 1970, and was employed by oil-related companies, first in Italy and then in the UK. As Managing Director and Chairman, Sevi sold his oil company in 2005. He began his passion for collecting Clarice Cliff pottery in the mid-1990s. In 2008, Guatelli published a comprehensive book, The Best of Clarice Cliff, which celebrates the work of this twentieth century designer, businesswoman and artist.

Auction info