Door 9: Lucie Rie

Photography by © Armstrong Jones

Pottery has been in the spotlight again in recent years, whether it is Japanese inspired ware for your home or doing pottery as a hobby. This lead to an increased interest in the history of this craft. It is therefore quite surprising that one of the pioneers of modernism in pottery is the Austrian-British potter Lucie Rie.

Tea Set by Lucie Rie, 1930

She studied pottery at Vienna's Kunstgewerbeschule, the predecessor of the University of Applied Arts, under Michael Powolny, who was closely associated with the Wiener Werkstätte. Already from 1925 she had her own studio in Vienna. In the same year exhibited at the Paris International Exhibition, where i1937 she won a silver medal.

So she built up a reputation with her early pottery, that was inspired by Neoclassicism, Jugendstil, Modernism, and Japonism. But with the rise of the Nazis in Austria, she fled in 1938 and settled in London. She arrived in a war shattered city and the demand for pottery was low, so she had to make ends meet and started producing buttons. Treating it similar to her approach to pottery, she still had to start from scratch and first worked at Bimini Glass workshop in Soho before starting her own studio. Her buttons were a success making up to 6000 buttons a month.

Bowl, approximately 1986, © Christies

Her own studio and home was located near Hyde Park in Albion Mews, where she lived until her death and during the war hid the physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In 1946 she hired fellow the émigré Hans Coper, who had never worked with clay before, but was talented and became her business partner in 1948 until 1952. The later then became also one of the most sought after potters of the 20th century.

Contrary to her buttons, Lucie Rie's pottery took longer to be appreciated as she struggled against the predominant taste for Anglo-Japanese pottery, that famous potter Bernard Leach and his followers presented. She did not follow their style and contrary started to use stoneware glazes on earthenware; gave tableware a metropolitan touch; and created single fire glazes with rich and deep colors. In her pottery she walks a fine line between form and function, which inspires and attracts people to this day.