In 2007 the film director Lord Attenborough declared, “Art belongs to no one, some of us are simply its temporary, fortunate and delighted custodians.” Following Richard’s death in 2014 and that of his wife Sheila in 2016, the family is being as good as his word and auctioning off much of his collection. So on November 22, one of the best collections of Picasso ceramics in private hands will be up for sale at Sotheby’s: 67 lots, collected by the Attenboroughs over half a century, will be coming under the hammer.
The Attenboroughs met Picasso on various occasions and were early connoisseurs of what were to become some of the most sought-after ceramics in the world. The prices reflect this: the Grand Vase aux Femmes Nues is estimated at £250,000-£350,000; Chouette is estimated at £10,000-£15,000; the Vase Gros Oiseau Vert at £50,000-£70,000; and Tripode at £80,000-£120,000.
The works are expected to raise £1.5m, a reflection of the soaring popularity of these pieces, which the Attenboroughs collected while spending summers in their south of France home near Vallauris. A chance visit to the Madoura pottery, where Picasso worked from 1947, sparked a lifelong interest in the work, and the collection provides an overview of the development of Picasso’s work over the years.
“This is quite simply the best collection of its kind in private hands, infused with the sheer joy that it gave Lord Attenborough and his delight in Picasso’s impish sense of humour,” says Séverine Nackers, Sotheby’s Picasso ceramics specialist.
Attenborough’s son Michael, himself a theatre director, remembers the collecting trips as very much a family affair. “Vallauris was a great annual pilgrimage,” he says. “In those days I remember wrapping pots up in brown paper for the drive back to England. At Old Friars, our family home, dad scattered them liberally everywhere; he adored them and just loved their extraordinary combination of beauty and wit.”