Can the heady heights of demand for Clarice Cliff ever be revisited?
A test of that market will happen on March 20 when, as part of its Clarice Cliff, Art Deco & Design sale, Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury will offer nearly 90 Clarice lots from two private collections. The designer’s three key decorative themes – landscapes, florals and geometrics – are all represented.
One of the collections was assembled from the 1980s to the early 1990s – the heyday of Clarice Cliff collecting – and is a cross-section of the designer’s output. The other involved the more selective acquisition of top-of-the-range pieces in the late 1990s.
At the time, W&W 20th century design specialist Michael Jeffery was working at Christie’s South Kensington. Stand-alone Clarice auctions at CSK, launched in 1983, were already a decade old when he joined as a porter straight from university in 1992. The sales, including the first single-owner Clarice auction in 1999, the centenary of the designer’s birth, fuelled a collecting fervour, aided by highly active collecting clubs.
“The Clarice Cliff collecting market has grown older with me,” says Jeffrey, who marks 16 years at W&W this year. “Though the market has come down since the mid-2000s, there is still a very strong following for Clarice’s bright colours and strong shapes, with younger collectors coming through.”
He hopes that having a critical mass of 88 pieces with estimates from £120-5000 will encourage collectors to travel to the sale, echoing the journeys to Clarice auctions of the past. “It’s always been a very social collecting field,” he notes.
At the top end of expectations is a Fantasque Bizarre 17in (44cm) wall charger in the Red Trees and House pattern painted radially, with six repeats in coral red, black and emerald green.
Purchased by the consignor at a CSK auction in April 1995, “it would grace the wall of any collector and at a £3000-5000 estimate, is still a bargain for a modern British artist”, says Jeffrey. Estimated at £200-300, a Tennis pattern Stamford milk-jug and sugar basin “is one of my favourite lots in the auction, showing Clarice at her best”, he adds.
“Tennis is one of Clarice’s early 1929 abstract patterns which has been carefully painted on a shape inspired by a silver tea set designed by Tétard Frères.”
Although the jug and bowl are small and originally part of a tea set, “the painter, or ‘Bizarre Girl’ as Clarice’s female decorators were known, has obviously taken time to carefully paint both pieces on all sides”.