The early 20th century heralded a pivotal era in British ceramics, especially with the innovative contributions of the celebrated ceramic artist, Clarice Cliff. An iconic example of her craftsmanship, the Conical Sugar Sifter, shape no. 489, debuted in 1931 and, for the better part of that decade, embodied an ingenious fusion of aesthetics and utility. We take a look at this classic shape and some of the many hundreds of patterns that were created on the sugar sifters including classic designs such as Crocus, Aurea, Rhodanthe, House and Bridge, to rarer examples.
The Conical Sugar Sifter’s form is an embodiment of the Art Deco design movement which was at its zenith during the period of its conception. The signature conical silhouette, which broadens at the base and tapers towards the top, is inherently evocative of the streamlined modernity emblematic of Art Deco aesthetics. The shape also provided a harmonious balance of design and functionality, its shape designed for an even and precise distribution of sugar.
From 1931 until approximately 1938, the sugar sifter became a canvas for an array of diverse patterns, handpainted and transfer-printed. The handpainted patterns varied from bold geometric designs to intricate floral motifs, reflecting Cliff’s adeptness in shifting between styles. Her use of color was as variegated as her designs, with hues ranging from bold, saturated colors to softer, muted shades, a demonstration of her command over chromatic expressiveness.
The transfer-printing technique played an instrumental role in replicating complex patterns across multiple units with a remarkable degree of consistency. This process was an innovative amalgamation of artisanal craftsmanship and mechanized production methods, an embodiment of the modernist ethos of the era. Notably, the introduction of transfer printing in Cliff’s manufacturing process also democratized access to these artistic pieces, allowing more people to own and appreciate her work.
Cliff’s Conical Sugar Sifter also included designs from her iconic ‘Bizarre’ and ‘Fantasque’ ranges. The ‘Bizarre’ range, introduced in the late 1920s, was characterized by bold colors and abstract patterns. The ‘Fantasque’ range, on the other hand, was known for its imaginative landscapes and whimsical themes, further illustrating Cliff’s diverse and imaginative design repertoire.
The production of the Conical Sugar Sifter shape no. 489 ceased around 1938, marking the end of a seminal chapter in Cliff’s career and in the evolution of British ceramic design. Nevertheless, the appeal and value of these pieces have not diminished over the decades. Today, they are coveted by collectors and enthusiasts alike, particularly those with a specific interest in Art Deco ceramics.
Wedgwood and Bradford Exchange among others have released modern versions of classic Clarice patterns on sugar sifters.