By the 1960s, Lucie Rie (1902–1995) was internationally renowned for the elegance of the simple, uncluttered forms of her pottery. Her work continues not only to inspire the direction of contemporary studio pottery, but has resonance for contemporary artists working in other media.
Born in Vienna, Rie trained at the city’s Kunstgewerbeschule (school for applied arts). There, her ceramic work was influenced by the teaching of Josef Hoffmann, a modernist architect who favoured functional clarity and abstract purity in design. Rie’s sensitivity to space, line and simple form, and the daring construction of the stoneware bottles for which she is widely known, no doubt stems from this shared vision.
In 1938, Rie fled to England to avoid Nazi persecution, and re-established her studio in London. Initially, her modernist aesthetic had little appeal to the introspective British collectors of the time. Bernard Leach, who was working in St Ives at the time, offered friendship and support, but Rie was an urban potter, and Leach’s rustic designs linking Japanese pottery with the English tradition were alien to her. Instead, with the encouragement and insight of fellow immigrant potter Hans Coper, she continued to evolve as a truly modernist European potter.
Rie’s predilection for classical Mediterranean pottery, as well as natural textures and structures, brought surprising colour to her crisp porcelain bowls and extraordinary finishes to her stoneware bottles and vases. She was always prepared to challenge conventions of practice, sometimes fusing form and surface by glazing raw pots and firing them only once, or incising the inside as well as the outside of her pots with sgraffito lines, so that viewers could enjoy the interplay between the two surfaces.