At the tail-end of a bleak winter, gazing upon the bright Mediterranean colours of a Clarice Cliff collection may provide some warm, welcome relief.
Woolley & Wallis hopes to inspire such cheer in today’s collectors of the trailblazing Art Deco ceramics designer, as the Salisbury auctioneer prepares to sell not one, but two collections of Clarice Cliff wares.
As part of its Clarice Cliff, Art Deco & Design sale on Wednesday, March 20, W&W is selling nearly 90 Clarice lots. Estimates range from an affordable £120 for typical pieces to a top-end £5000 for a rare charger.
The designer’s three main decorative themes – landscapes, florals and geometrics – are all represented in the sale.
One of the collections was assembled from the 1980s to the early 1990s – the heyday of Clarice Cliff collecting – and is a cross-section of the designer’s output. The other involved a more selective acquisition of top-of-the-range pieces in the late 1990s.
W&W 20th century design specialist Michael Jeffery worked through those heady days at Christie’s South Kensington, which he joined in 1992 as a porter straight from university.
Starting in 1983, specialist Clarice Cliff auctions at CSK helped fuel a collecting fervour, aided by highly active collecting clubs. Jeffery, by then CSK’s British decorative arts specialist, oversaw those sales, including the first single-owner Clarice auction in 1999, the centenary of the designer’s birth.
“The Clarice Cliff collecting market has grown older with me,” says Jeffery, who marks 16 years at W&W this year. “Though the market has come down since the mid-2000s, there is still a very strong following for Clarice’s bright colours and strong shapes, with younger collectors coming through.”
Jeffery believes some estimates will be exceeded, such as that for the rare 'Appliqué Etna’ vase (lot 37), while others may fall short on the day.
He hopes that having a critical mass of 88 lots will encourage collectors to travel to the sale, echoing the journeys to Clarice Cliff actions of the past. “It’s always been a very social collecting field,” he notes.
Six highlights coming up on March 20 - all lots can be viewed on thesaleroom.com.
1. Crocus-pattern conical teapot – estimate £200-300
From the late 1920s, commercial success allowed Clarice to progress to more angular, geometric shapes. This teapot and cover (lot 5) mixes a modernist shape with the hand-painted Crocus pattern launched in 1928 as part of the Bizarre range.
“Strong sales of the Crocus design enabled Clarice to experiment with more abstract, cutting-edge patterns based on textile designs and pattern books produced by French and European Art Deco masters,” says Jeffery.
Jeffery says new collectors should note the variance in quality of painting of the Crocus pattern in particular, given the large number of artists (70 at one stage) Clarice employed.
2. Conical sugar sifters – estimates £150-500
Clarice produced many condiment and sugar sifter shapes, but the most sought-after today are conical sugar sifters, with thirteen examples in the W&W March 20 sale.
The selection – which makes the cover of the sale catalogue – ranges from a Crocus example (lot 1) to a rare piece painted in Solitude (lot 20), estimated at £300-500 because of some professional restoration.
3. ‘Tennis' pattern Bizarre Stamford milk-jug and sugar basin – estimate £200-300
“This is one of my favourite lots in the auction, showing Clarice at her best,” says Jeffery of Lot 13. “’Tennis’ is one of Clarice’s early 1929 abstract patterns which has been carefully painted on the Art Deco, Stamford shape.”
A silver tea set designed by Tétard Frères was Clarice’s inspiration for the Stamford form.
Although the jug and bowl are small and originally part of a tea set, “the painter, or ‘Bizarre Girl’ as Clarice’s female decorators were known, has obviously taken time to carefully paint both pieces on all sides”.
4. 'Orange Secrets' Fantasque Bizarre Stamford tea for two – estimate £1500-2000
As time passes, complete Clarice Cliff tea sets are becoming rarer for collectors to find, with lot 11 being the only complete set in the March 20 auction. “This Orange Secrets, Stamford shape tea-for-two is some 86 years old and has the vibrancy and modernity still relevant today,” says Jeffery.
The Secrets pattern is painted in the rarer Orange colourway and finished with broad bright orange bands, rather than the more common green.
Jeffery says the set’s estimate is based on the last comparable tea-for-two set sold by W&W in 2015, that one decorated in the ‘Red Trees’ pattern and making £1900.
5. ‘Appliqué Etna’ Bizarre 265 vase – estimate £2000-3000
The Appliqué range, dating from 1930, used special, more expensive enamel paints and resulted in pieces featuring brilliantly coloured landscapes covering the whole object.
The 'Appliqué Etna' 265 vase “is a real rarity, only the second vase known in this pattern,” says Jeffery of lot 37. “With this being the first example of Appliqué Etna painted on a vase, it will be interesting to see if our published estimate of £2000-3000 proves accurate.”
6. 'Red Trees and House' Fantasque Bizarre wall charger – estimate £3000-5000
The last lot in the Clarice Cliff section of the March 20 sale is the largest: a 17.3in (44cm) diameter ribbed wall charger decorated in coral red, black and emerald green.
Purchased by the consignor at a CSK auction in April 1995, the charger also carries the sale’s highest estimate of all the 88 Clarice Cliff lots.
The pattern is painted radially with six repeats of the house and trees design. “It would grace the wall of any collector and at £3,000-5,000 estimate, is still a bargain for a modern British artist,” says Jeffery.