In this rare and unusually large footed bowl, Lucie Rie’s glossy, slightly translucent, yellow glaze, contrasts beautifully with the more uniform, matt brown lines and sgraffito check on the rim. This precise pattern is mirrored by an equally exquisite design hidden within the foot of the bowl. The term sgraffito describes the potter’s technique of painting two glazes, one on top of the other, then scratching fine lines through the top layer, to reveal a contrasting glaze, or unglazed, porcelain beneath. Rie began to use this technique more frequently after visiting Avebury, Wiltshire in the late 1940s, where she saw Bronze Age ceramics decorated with sgraffito alomg with the original bird bone tools used in their decoration. This technique was well known in Italy in the 15th century and reached a highpoint in the potteries of Beauvais, France. By the 17th century, it was superseded in continental Europe as a decorative device by slip trailing, but in South West England, and Devon in particular, the technique continued well into the 19th century.
The glorious colour of this bowl prefigures the yellow bowls Rie made in the late 1970s, with manganese rims, which typically had a more mattified texture. The pursuit of the perfect yellow glaze has challenged ceramicists for centuries. There are wonderful examples of yellow porcelain from Imperial China, made using low-fired iron oxide glazes. The first European porcelains to achieve a solid yellow ground were highly prized. At Meissen in the 1720s, yellow was used for the vases made for Augustus of Saxony, it was also the first colour to be perfected at the Sèvres factory, Vincennes in 1751. In England, apart from its occasional use at Derby and Pinxton, yellow was most successfully used in mass-produced earthenwares.
This bowl was included in the Crafts Council retrospective which marked Rie’s 80th birthday. The exhibition presented only the finest examples of her work and this piece was given a full-page illustration in the catalogue. The show’s curator John Houston described Rie as ‘a potter whose pursuit of excellence has never wavered’, her work’s formal austerity ‘unified and softened by poetry’. Rie’s enthusiasm for historical ceramics, Cycladic, Mycenaean and Roman, informed her practice, as did her close observation of natural forms. Houston noted a depth of texture in her surfaces, seeing a connection to textiles and baskets - as we see in this work. He also understood the significance of her creative partnership with Hans Coper, ‘the spirit and substance of her work shaped by his insight and appreciation’ 1
1 John Houston & David Cripps, Lucie Rie, Crafts Council, London, 1981, inside cover, p7 & p19
Norwich, Sainsbury Centre, Lucie Rie, 10 November - 13 December 1981, touring to:
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 17 February - 28 March 1982
London, Erskine, Hall & Coe, International Ceramics, 9 August - 8 September 2016
John Houston, Lucie Rie: A Survey of Her Life and Work, Crafts Council, London, 1981, illus p39
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