Flower Power

Jeremy Thornton on why a local artist is springing to prominence as the crocuses bloom

As we head into March, it’s the perfect time to consider artists and designers who have taken spring flowers as an inspiration for their works. One in particular is Clarice Cliff who used flowers prominently in a number of her stunning and very collectable designs. Cliff was born in January 1899 in Stoke, and was a leading designer and ceramic artist working from 1922 to 1963. In 1928, she produced a simple, hand-painted pattern of crocus flowers. As our picture demonstrates, the design is striking in orange, blue and purple. Each flower is painted with confident upward strokes with the fine green leaves added while the piece was held upside down.

VIBRANT COLOURS

With such vibrant colours and beautiful technique, the Crocus pattern was an instant success. Initially, Clarice had just one young decorator, Ethel Barrow, working on the Crocus pattern but as orders flooded in, by 1930 a separate decorating ‘shop’ was established. Ethel became responsible for training young painters in how to do the pattern. Through much of the 1930s around 20 young women were painting nothing but the Crocus pattern. The design is a little unusual for Clarice Cliff’s work, in that it was produced on tableware, tea and coffee ware and ‘fancies’ – or novelty items made primarily as giftware. The pattern had many colour variations, including Purple Crocus (1932), Blue Crocus (1935) and Sungleam Crocus (1935). It was even produced after the war, the final pieces with Clarice Cliff marks being made in 1963, though Midwinter (who bought the factory) continued to paint it to order until as late as 1968.

CARPET OF BLUE

The extraordinary success of this pattern, the demand and length of production means that in the salerooms the Crocus design is relatively common, and prices for tea sets can start for as little as £100 to £200. A perfect starting level for budding collectors. Moving away from just ceramics, the influence of spring flowers is seen regularly in the saleroom with a number of attractive studies of bluebell glades and forest clearings covered in a carpet of blue flowers. It is of course easy to see why artists are inspired by these scenes of natural beauty, as anyone who has walked through bluebells knows. There is a certain scent and feel about a bluebell glade that many artists have tried to capture. A picture of such a scene is little bit of spring and the hope for warmer times to come, captured and in your home all year round.

Jeremy Thornton is an auctioneer at Biddle & Webb, which has been established in Birmingham for more than 50 years. www.biddleandwebb.co.uk