In this equal-opportunities area women have been making their mark since the Art Nouveau and Deco decades when the likes of the Barlow sisters, Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper and Charlotte Rhead designed for major potteries.
But these past three decades have also witnessed the rise and rise of individual artists producing their own material covered by the title ‘studio pottery’.
“In studio pottery, women share status with their male counterparts,” says Marijke Varrall-Jones, founder in 2008 of London 20th century specialist Maak (20% buyer’s premium).
Her sale at Pall Mall’s Royal Opera Arcade on November 22, where 78% of the 303 lots got away to a hammer total of £372,650, was not geared to make a feminist point but did so anyway.
“It reaffirmed our collectors’ continued passion for female potters with some world records reached and strong results across the board,” she said.
Lee is a leading light
Sharing joint top spot was Jennifer Lee. Perhaps 10 years ago the 62-year-old Scottish ceramicist could have been described as a name to watch but today Lee, who won the 2018 £50,000 Loewe Craft prize, is not so much a rising star these days as a leading light.
The 13½in (34cm) tall stoneware vessel Olive, with two flashed haloed bands, was one of two works of this size among a group of similar pieces she made in 1983, her final year at the Royal College of Art. In perfect condition, it was estimated by Maak at £10,000-15,000 but sold to a UK collector at £28,000.
Collectors set new records for names less widely known outside this specialist world: Mary Rogers (b.1929) and Ursula Morley-Price (b.1936).
An 11¾in (30cm) tall stoneware flanged bottle-form vessel by Morley-Price, dated 2002, was in perfect condition and went to an American bidder at a six-times estimate £6000.
A 4¾in (12cm) diameter, a c.1975 footed bowl by Rogers, perfect bar a small area of discoloured crazing to the underside, went to a UK collector at a 10-times estimate £6500.
Other buoyant sales for female potters continued with Felicity Aylieff’s Marbled Vessel at £1320 and Alison Britton’s Early Jug with Figures at £3000.
Not that this was an all-female show. Pieces ranged from £7000 for a pilgrim bottle by Bernard Leach to two 1972 stoneware and porcelain slip pieces by the current leader in the field, Hans Coper. Coper’s 7½in (19cm) Squeezed Vase and Cup on Foot were each estimated at £15,000- 20,000 and each sold to the same UK collector at £28,000.
Coper famously learned his craft as an apprentice to the great Lucie Rie. Undisputed queen of the studio ceramics though she is, some of the heat seems to have gone out of the feverish market over the past year.
Of her 25 pieces at Maak, Rie’s top-seller was a 10¼in (26.5cm) tall stoneware vase with flaring lip from the ‘Black Firing’ items of 1981. Estimated at £6000-8000, it sold to a UK collector at £10,000. However, of the 18 other pieces which got away, almost all did so within estimate and occasionally below.
Rie in great supply
The same mood was evident at Woolley & Wallis’ (25% buyer’s premium) British Pottery sale at Salisbury on December 12.
The potential Rie star, a 14¼in (36.5cm) tall stoneware bottle vase on slender cylindrical foot, failed to get away against hopes of £20,000-30,000. The best-seller, an 8½in (22cm) porcelain bottle vase, went a shade below estimate at £14,000 to a UK collector against ‘a UK institution’.
W&W expert Michael Jeffery said: “The market for Dame Lucie’s work has become fractured with very strong prices still being paid for coloured bowls and other rarities.
“However, reports of high prices for her material have also brought a considerable amount of her work onto the market and the rise in supply has increased faster than the demand.”
The interest in other women potters was also much in evidence at Salisbury including a likely record for Margaret Hine (1927-87).
Hine’s animal figures enjoyed success d’estime in the small world of British studio pottery in the 1950s when she was known as one of the ‘Bayswater Three’ along with William Newland and Nicolas Vaguette, who shared a studio there.
At W&W her signed 17in (43cm) tall stoneware sculpture Girl on a Horse was estimated at £1200-1800 but sold to a Far East collector at £4000.
“I think it probably is a record for her work, although her work rarely comes up for auction,” said Jeffery.
Popular too were a series of figural pieces by John Maltby (b.1936), Black Boat, an 18in (39cm) stoneware sculpture took £1200 – the sort of sum typically reserved for the potter’s better-known slab-built vases.