Unique ceramics by Pablo Picasso belonging to the artist’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s this summer. One of the most extensive and important groups of the artist’s work in this medium, the collection offers an incomparable insight into Picasso’s work in clay and the extraordinary breadth of his creativity and versatility. The huge appeal of these pieces stems from Picasso’s ingenuity in transforming everyday objects into works of art.”
Guillaume Cerutti, CEO, Sotheby’s France and Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe, commented: “Sotheby’s is honoured to have been once again entrusted with exceptional works from Marina Picasso’s legendary collection. In recent years we have had the privilege of working with Marina on the sale of a number of Picasso’s paintings and drawings, as well as an exhibition of fifty drawings by her grandfather from her private collection. This forthcoming sale provides a wonderful opportunity for art collectors and connoisseurs to explore one of the most original aspects of Picasso’s genius.”
Spanning the full range of his production in this medium, from the early examples of 1947- 48 to examples from the late 1960s, the collection will be offered in a stand-alone sale preceding Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale on 25 June 2015 in London. Together, the group – comprising 126 lots and encompassing hand-painted plates, vases and tiles, to hand-modelled figures and more sculptural pieces – is estimated to bring a combined total in the region of £4.5 million.
Long-celebrated as examples of the artist’s playful and innovative approach, Picasso’s ceramics have undergone a crucial reassessment in recent years, following a number of important exhibitions including the Royal Academy’s celebrated Picasso, painter and sculptor in clay and the more recent show at the Musée National de Céramique in Paris.
They have come to be understood in the context of his wider artistic production and his work in clay has been realigned as an activity concurrent with his painting and sculpture. Picasso was the ultimate master of all media and just as he had done with painting, printmaking and sculpture, he mastered the art of ceramics.
Marilyn McCully, a leading Picasso scholar, commented: “Picasso’s activity in ceramics in the south of France reflected the sense of freedom and happiness that he felt in the post-war period. While he drew on the traditions of ancient and Spanish art, as well as on the popular ceramics of the region, Picasso’s work in ceramics never simply looked back. Instead he reinvigorated those traditions with his own inventions in terms of forms, techniques and imagery. His skill and the secrets of the making of his ceramics still astound us today.”
Picasso’s relentless creative and innovative impulses – the instincts that made him the most celebrated artist of the twentieth century – are perhaps nowhere better exhibited than in his work with ceramics. The medium was largely new to Picasso when he began working
at the Madoura Pottery in 1947, but he immediately saw the potential of this traditional craft and set about learning and challenging the techniques of the ceramicist’s art, reinterpreting it with a remarkable resourcefulness and his characteristic spontaneity.
It was in the summer of 1946 – during a stay at the nearby coastal resort of Golfe Juan – that Picasso first met Suzanne Douly and Georges Ramié in their now famed Madoura studio in the town of Vallauris, which they had opened in 1938 and whose name combined the first syllables of ‘maison’ and their surnames. Picasso’s friend, the artist and poet Jaime Sabartés, tells us that Picasso made this trip to Vallauris with the sole intention of distracting himself, but that during his chance meeting with the Ramiés, he was so excited by ceramic as a medium that he immediately sat down on a bench and spent the afternoon modelling small clay animals in his hands. The experience ignited a spark
of inspiration which was to prove deeply compelling
to Picasso and he became attracted by the artistic possibilities and challenges that clay offered. When Picasso returned to Vallauris the following year, in the autumn of 1947, he was armed with a sketchbook full of ideas and set to work in a fury of inspiration, working
in the Madoura studio almost daily. He also returned
to find that the little works he had modelled on that first afternoon of activity in 1946, and which he had left behind, had been fired and then carefully looked after by the Ramiés, who hoped that he would one day visit again. The warm welcome that they all gave Picasso on his return to Madoura made for a wonderfully nurturing environment for him to embark upon this exciting new aspect of his work.
Picasso began creating an astonishing array of objects, and as his own technical understanding grew, he was able to play with the traditional shapes and decorative devices used in the pottery and manipulate existing designs. From zoomorphic jugs and sensuous vases to plates and salvers emblazoned with scenes and faces, Picasso’s imagination was matched by the malleability of the ceramicist’s medium.
In many works, Picasso achieves a level of abstraction which moves the ceramic objects into the realm of the purely sculptural. Sculpture was important to Picasso’s output during this period and it is clear that he considered his work in ceramic to be integral to his work as a sculptor.
Picasso’s son Claude has vivid memories of the firing process at Vallauris: “Working with the primal elements fire and earth must have appealed to him because of
the almost magical results. Simple means, terrific effect. How ravishing to see colours sing after internal fires have given them life. The owls managed a wink now. The bulls seemed ready to bellow. The pigeons, still warm from the electric kiln, sat proudly brooding over their warm eggs.
I touched them. They were alive really. The faces smiled. You could hear the band at the bullfight.” (Claude Picasso in Picasso: Sculptor and
Painter (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 223).