Frances Spalding

Viennese Whirls

Lucie Rie: Modernist Potter


Yale University Press 328pp £30 order from our bookshop

Lucie Rie’s ceramics are often quite small in scale. Yet contained within them is an awareness of the full breadth of world ceramic traditions. She studied Chinese, ancient Roman and Islamic pottery. Her far-reaching interests were combined with an intuitive response to volume, surface, space and decoration, and to the balance between them. Hence the stillness and remoteness associated with her pots; and, to some extent, with the story of her life. She left no personal diaries and few private letters; she refused to answer personal questions and usually resisted non-technical questions about her work, by insisting that she was not a historian, theorist nor philosopher, but simply a potter. Yet, surprisingly, this new biography is riveting. It far exceeds the brief account by Tony Birks, published in Rie’s lifetime, for Emmanuel Cooper had unrestricted access to her letters and papers. In addition he brings to the biographer’s task a much broader focus. World-shattering events affected the course of Rie’s life. Cooper, who died while this book was in production, was primarily a ceramicist and his intimate knowledge of the potter’s art, combined with the generosity of his historical sweep, makes it unlikely that this biography of Rie will ever be surpassed. 

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