Painter, printmaker and teacher, Cliffe's plans of becoming an artist were interrupted by the War. He served in the army where he met William Scott whilst on secondment in Wales.
Born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, Cliff studied at the local art school until 1946 when he enrolled at the Bath Academy of Art, where he later became one of the staff. It was in Bath that he ran the lithography studio from 1950 until his retirement in 1981. Cliffe and his students' work have been shown in a number of international exhibitions, such as Cincinnati International Lithography Exhibitions in 1954 and 1960, and at two Venice Biennales. He was one of five artists shown in the British Pavilion at the 1960 Venice Beinnale.
Cliffe's first show of paintings was at the Redfern Gallery in 1956 (with follow up shows in 1956 and 1961), his first one-man print show at St. George's Gallery, London. Early works derive from both a preoccupation with Surrealism and 1940s neo-Romantic English landscape.
In the 1950s Cliffe's work became more concerned with the relationship between the human figure and the landscape. In 1959 a suite of lithographs on this theme was published by St George's Gallery. In 1960 he won first prize at the Philadelphia Print Club and in the following year gained a Ford Foundation Scholarship with the Pratt Institute of Art, New York.
His work is represented in many public collections including; Victoria &Albert Museum, London, Cincinnati Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, City Art Gallery, Bristol and the University of Bristol.
signed and dated 1956
Private Collection London 1999 to 2017
Henry Cliffe's Composition 1956 was painted in the same year as his first solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, London. This abstract patchwork of colour is bound up in an optimistic aesthetic. His work as a printmaker comes through in this piece in his graphic use of line and layering of forms. Despite this, there is also a rich, textural and painterly quality.