Lucie Rie (16 March 1902 – 1 April 1995)
Upon seeing Lucie Rie alongside her pottery, there seems to be a symbiosis between the potter and her pottery. Emmanuel Cooper noted that Lucie Rie’s works are ‘full of energy and life, composed, ordered and strong’. Ranging from pale shades of pink, blues and beaming yellows to the darkness of greys and monotone blacks and whites, a lot about Lucie Rie is depicted within the pottery that she created.
Lucie Rie, ca.1964, photograph by Steffi Braun-Olsen (image source: The Dowse Art Museum)
Born in Vienna during 1902, as Lucie Marie Gomperz, to Benjamin And Gisela Gomperz, Lucie Rie was part of a secular, Jewish and liberal family. Within Austria, Rie’s family were wealthy, established and respected. As a result, she came under the influence of Dr Eugenie Schwarzwald, head teacher of Vienna’s progressive Girls’ School. Schwarzwald was a human rights activist and feminist, who also taught alongside artist Oskar Kokoschka, painter and composer Arnold Schönberg and architect Adolf Loos, in an environment which must have been modern, experimental, and most importantly, one of self expression. This core of education and upbringing is what led Lucie Rie to become a potter and perhaps the modernist potter of the twentieth century.
From this upbringing, despite considering a scientific career and following in her father’s footsteps of becoming a medical Doctor, it seemed the natural progression to enrol in Vienna’s Kunstgewerbeschule, its highly progressive School of Applied Arts. It would be within this atmosphere that Rie would discover the potter’s wheel and where her artistic future would lie. During this period the works she created were simple bowls and cylinders, covered in multiple glazes of sumptuous colours and deep tones, a far cry from the popular style of the time.
Surrounded by figurative ceramic sculptures and decorative vessel forms, Rie approached her style more as an artist that was focused upon minimalism and the influence of modernist architecture that surrounded her. Josef Hoffman, distinguished architect-designer, heralded her work by using it as much as possible within his interiors and Rie won awards throughout pre-war national and international exhibitions. This acclaim would stand for nothing when, in 1938, Rie and her husband became refugees in Britain, upon fleeing Nazi-dominated Austria. In an attempt to re-establish herself and her pottery within England, Rie chose to abandon her own signature style and fell under the influence of British potters such as Bernard Leach. Her previously fine, minimalist works had become heavy and chunky, imitations of Leach’s work, with associations to the thickness of medieval jugs. Despite these characteristics having their own beauty, it was not Lucie Rie’s true form of self expression.
It was when her peers encouraged Rie to return to her Viennese roots that she truly began to flourish. With the new introduction of lines that reflected and followed each piece of pottery, Rie’s minimal pottery became energetic and animated, perhaps a symbol of her re-invigoration and the rediscovery of her self. As Emmanuel Cooper recognises, ‘Lucie Rie’s pots are remarkable for their sense of stillness and inner strength, often appearing a great deal larger than they actually are. This great serenity of form, body, decoration and glaze unite in a completeness that is quiet, restrained and controlled’, characteristics which Rie embodied within herself and her pottery.
Lucie Rie, footed bowl, c.1980, porcelain, bronze rim, pink inlay, matt glaze,
dia: c.22 cm, c.1980. Galerie Besson, London. (image source: Yale Books Blog)
Lucie Rie in her studio, photograph by Ben Boswell (image source: Crafts Council)
Lucie Rie’s work would continue to prosper and evolve throughout the twentieth century, until she stopped creating in 1990 due to a series of strokes. Her London home and studio at 18 Albion Mews was where she rediscovered her style and strength, and lived until her death in 1995, and where a blue plaque still remains to reveal that ‘Dame Lucie Rie’ created and lived there.
Blue Plaque, 18 Albion Mews, London (image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Selected Recommended Reading:
Emmanuel Cooper, Lucie Rie: Modernist Potter, Yale University (May 2012).
Tony Birks, Lucie Rie, Stenlake Publishing (August 2009).