At the age of 20, under the influence of an uncle who loved art and archaeology, Lucie studied pottery at the school of arts and crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in her city of birth. She went on to contribute to the renown of the Vienna Workshop movement – a precursor of modern design, namely of Bauhaus and Art Deco – which gathered staunchly innovative architects, fashion designers, graphic designers, artists and other ceramicists.

Lucie Rie A page from a photograph album with three pictures of Lucie Rie, 1910s-1930s. Image via vads.ac.uk

In this context, her work, despite being inspired by ancient forms, soon turned heads, and in 1925, she began presenting her earliest creations at the International Exposition in Paris, where she won a silver medal – one of the first in her stash of awards and distinctions – in 1937.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie at the wheel in Vienna and a pot made by her, 1930s. Image via vads.ac.uk

Exiled to London

Fleeing the rampant Nazism and anti-Semitism in her natal Austria, she separated from her husband Hans Rie, whom she had wed in Vienna ten years earlier, and moved to London the following year. To earn a living in her new homeland, she began making ceramic buttons and jewelry, which she sold to fashion designers, subject to wartime restrictions at the time. Today, some of her buttons are displayed in English museums, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's buttons. Image via collections.vam.ac.uk

Her studio, a former stable at 18 Albion Mews, near Hyde Park, employed or sheltered several other war refugees including physicist Erwin Schödinger, an eminent contributor to quantum theory, and the young Hans Coper originally from Germany, who through his contact with Lucie Rie, would prove to be an excellent potter and also follow a career in this field.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie and Hans Coper (left) and Lucie Rie in front of her home (right), where she lived and worked for about 50 years until she passed away. Images via cfileonline.org; and casswebsite.org

At ease with austerity

Returning to her first pottery loves – the turntable and the electric kiln –, Lucie Rie confirmed her style upon the war’s conclusion: a mixture of modernity and ancient, even prehistoric influences (she was said to be particularly impressed by her visits to the Neolithic and Bronze Age collections in the archaeological museum in Avebury, in the south of England), also characterised by a search for purity and an ease with austerity.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's pots arranged on the Plischke shelves at Albion Mews, 1950. Image via casswebsite.org

This austerity and roughness associated with her singular work were also personality traits of hers, and her students at the Camberwell School of Art, where she taught from 1960 onwards, became the regular butts of her ruthless honesty…

Independence

Placing her research and independence above the trends and the expectations of her entourage, namely Bernard Leach, a key figure in English pottery in the mid 20th century, or Hans Coper, who quickly geared himself towards more monumental creations, Lucie Rie mainly designed modestly-shaped vases, bottles and teacups with textured surfaces, sometimes colored in bright, intermingling shades, which highlighted the techniques of sgraffito and nériage.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's stoneware pouring jug. Image via joannabird.com

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's bowl. Image via wazars.com

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's objects. image via freeformsnyc.com

The seeming fragility of her creations often contrasted with the customarily solid appearance of stoneware.

Honours

Despite suffering from several heart attacks, she continued to sit at the turntable until nearly 90 years of age.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie at work. Image via atelierfceramics.com

A tireless worker, her dedication was widely recognized by prizes and renown in her adopted country, which would shower her with its highest distinctions. Appointed an OBE in 1968, she would be promoted to become a Dame in 1991. She also received honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art in London, as well as from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's blue plaque at 18 Albion Mews. Image via english-heritage.org.uk

Popular in both museums and auctions

In the latter part of her life, her pottery, which flirted with the purity of Asian formalism (fashion designer Issey Miyake was amongst her friends) or appeared to be eroded by centuries of exposure to the natural elements, was presented in museums all over the world, for example the MoMA in New York, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Paisley Museum in western Scotland, and of course, numerous English institutions. Her Albion Mews studio was even recreated at the Victoria and Albert Museum following her death in 1995.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's workshop, as exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Image via V&A Collections

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's workshop, as exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Image via wikipedia.org

Today, her works are comparable in value to those of Hans Coper. Prized by American, British, European and Japanese collectors, their prices are capable of climbing – even if they don’t reach the summits of the most valuable paintings – to tens of thousands of dollars for the most significant pieces.

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's flaring footed bowl circa 1978. Sold for £167,641 ( (incl. buyer’s premium), 2016. Image via Artnet

Lucie Rie Lucie Rie's straight-sided bowl circa 1978. Sold for £150,000 ( (incl. buyer’s premium), 2017. Image via Artnet

Simple yet rigorous, both in her art as in her daily life, the ceramicist, whose telephone number remained listed in the British telephone directory despite her celebrity status, regularly received all sorts of visitors in her studio near Hyde Park. A tea ceremony so to speak, unceremonious as it might have been. Accompanied, no doubt, by a Lucie Rie tea service…

Check out more of Lucie Rie's objects on Barnebys.

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