In 1919, Henry Cliffe was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He studied at the Bath Academy of Art, and the school’s principal, Clifford Ellis, invited him to teach lithography there. Many other noted artists spent time teaching at the Academy, including Terry Frost, Adrian Heath, Kenneth Armitage, William Scott, Peter Lanyon, and Bernard Meadows.
Cliffe soon opened a lithography studio in Bath and designed surreal forms there until his retirement in 1981. His work has been exhibited internationally to wide acclaim; in 1954 and 1960, he was one of five artists shown in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and he also first purchase prize at the Philadelphia Print Club. In Britain, he is credited with the 1950s revival of interest in original prints and lithographs.
In his 1965 studio handbook, Cliffe wrote that ‘Lithography is a process capable of great refinement and subtlety, of rich exuberance of colour; it is capable of rendering large and powerful images, of delicate drawing, of a wide and exciting range of textures – the possibilities are virtually unlimited’. Our collection of Cliffe’s works is mostly made up of his blue-toned and monochrome designs, vital and expressive. His lithographs are simultaneously delicate and powerful, and his abstracted human figures are particularly emotive. The monochrome series of Reclining Figure prints, all from the same plate, offer several tonal variations of Cliffe’s design. A highlight of our Henry Cliffe stock is the Two Standing Nudes: the artist uses a single block of colour to denote two forms, one male and one female, standing together like an edifice. The prints can be both ‘soft or strong, and of powerful quality’ [Henry Cliffe, Lithography, 1965]. Today, Cliffe’s work is considered an exercise in creative invention, the result of four decades spent experimenting with the lithographic medium.
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