Famous European ceramicists you need to know about

Looking back in time to some of the most influential potters Europe has seen

Dame Lucie Rie pictured with her work
Dame Lucie Rie pictured with her work. Getty

One of the most beautiful things about ceramics is that the breadth and creativity in what you can do is almost endless. We look back in time to some of the most influential and brilliant potters in Europe to give you a little inspiration….

Lucie Rie

No feature on famous European ceramicists would be complete without including Lucie Rie; her work is nothing short of genius. Born in 1902 Lucie has gone down in history as being one of the most prolific female potters the world has seen and was awarded Damehood in 1991 (she died in 1995).

Rie studied ceramics in Vienna, then came to London just before World War II and ran a ceramic button making business. She later went back into her true love of pottery and making functional pieces. The beauty of her work was that, it being very ‘thin walled and angular', was completely ahead of its time and unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Of course, over time her elegant wares were hugely coveted and she won prizes and awards across Europe for her unique and timeless pieces.

Bernard Leach

Bernard Leach holds an important place in the history of 20th century British pottery and ‘Leach Pottery is considered by many to be the birthplace of British studio pottery’. Born in Hong Kong, Leach moved to England when he was 10 and in his later years enrolled at the Slade School of Art. After a turn in banking Bernard Leach returned to his passion, ceramics after attending a raku party in Japan.

He lived in Tokyo and studied many different types of firing processes, meeting fellow potter Hamada Shoji, who was to become and important part of his life and work. In 1920 he returned to England to Cornwall’s St. Ives, frequently holding raku parties at his studio. He continued to experiment with techniques from his studio and from there grew a team.

He was hailed as one of the most famous studio potters and was awarded the highly coveted Companion of Honour award from the Japan Foundation. 

Edmund de Waal

Edmund de Waal is both a fantastic ceramicist and an award-winning writer. His most recently published book is called The White Road and it charts his journey across the world to discover places that his most loved medium, porcelain, came from. The British born artist has been presented an OBE and many awards throughout his career for his ceramics both large and small scale. He began his ceramics career setting up a kiln and studio at his home, making stoneware in the ‘Leach tradition’ (he later wrote a book about Bernard Leach). Edmund is famed for his creation of ‘cylindrical porcelain pots and pale celadon glazes’. The White Road documents his obsession with porcelain and his interest with ancient ceramic techniques from the east. He regularly exhibits his work around the world.

Josiah Wedgwood and Sons

There are few pottery businesses quite as famous as Wedgwood and people travel the world over to visit the factory and see these iconic pots and plates being traditionally made. In fact Josiah Wedgwood who founded Wedgewood in Staffordshire in 1759, was known as the ‘Father of English Potters’.

His most famous works were Queen’s Ware (1762), Black Basalt (1768) and Jasper (1174) and his most prestigious connection comes from his ties with the royal family. Queen Charlotte ordered a set of ‘cream coloured earthenware’, which ‘pleased her so much the Josiah Wedgewood was granted permission to style himself ‘Potter to her Majesty’. Subsequently Wedgewood pieces have been on every table from the Vatican to the White House. Visitors can still check out the wonderful factory in Stoke-on-Trent, it’s a pottery lover’s dream.

Hans Coper

German ceramicist Hans Coper was born in 1920 and in his later years moved to England. It was here he worked closely with Lucie Rie and each of them provided great inspiration in each other’s work. He is such a revered 20th century artist, that when a collection of his work was found in a British couple’s attic it was valued at over a million pounds.

Like Rie’s work Coper’s was functional and his technique was to throw his work on the wheel and then finish the piece by hand. His color palette, as Rie’s was mostly muted but surface textures played a big part in his style.