Over the past decade or so, Picasso’s ceramics have soared in popularity – and price – but it is less well known that he also crafted 24 different silver plates between 1956 and 1967, each cast in a limited edition of 20. Now, for the first time, a complete set of the plates is being auctioned, in Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Boundless: Contemporary Art sale on Thursday June 23, with viewing from Friday June 17 onwards. They are estimated at HK$12m-HK$18m (about £1.09m-£1.63m).
Picasso began working in ceramics in 1946, after attending the annual potters’ exhibition in Vallauris, France, but it was not until a decade later that he commissioned the master craftsman François Hugo – Victor Hugo’s great-grandson – to cast a series of designs in gold and silver based on the ceramic originals. Initially they were for Picasso’s enjoyment alone, hidden from the public and shown only to a small circle of intimates, but in 1967 Picasso authorised Hugo and his son Pierre to make small, numbered editions of each plate.
Even then their existence remained largely unknown outside a small number of connoisseurs until they formed part of the centrepiece of the 1977 solo exhibition Picasso – 19 Silver Platters at London’s Lever Galleries and Paris’ Galerie Matignon. They caused a sensation, and contributed to the growing recognition of Picasso’s non-painting works. “These unique silver plates cast an intimate light on Picasso’s artistic production of the 1950s,” says Isaure de Viel Castel, head of Boundless sales, Sotheby’s Hong Kong. “Picasso chose not to share these plates with the public, reserving them exclusively for his family and friends. It’s thrilling to have the opportunity to reunite them as a complete group for the first time at auction. Picasso’s ceramics share a similar iconography, but by casting in silver, he references the grand tradition of French and Italian silverware. Three centuries on from the legendary silver furniture and silverware made for Versailles, Picasso breathes life into this sumptuous French tradition.”
The designs are inspired by three themes: Henri Matisse, bullfights and his second wife Jacqueline Roque. The influence of Matisse shines through in the design Visage aux Feuilles, a whimsical face surrounded by simple lines in a manner reminiscent of Matisse’s later drawings and cutouts; the bull, a frequent preoccupation of Picasso, features in the design Taureau; and Roque, his muse at the time, appears in the design Profil de Jacqueline.