It is the dream of many an art collector to own a work by Picasso, but realising that ambition is not the preserve of as few as might be thought. For Picasso was not only a painter and sculptor: at the age of 64 he developed an interest in ceramics, creating many beautiful pieces that are bought both by Picasso aficionados and porcelain lovers. Interest in his ceramics has been growing since an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1998, and now a collection of more than 170 works is coming up for auction at Sotheby’s on Wednesday May 7. With estimates ranging from £400 to £60,000, the collection includes plates, vases, jugs, bowls and tiles.
Picasso’s late flowering as a ceramicist came after he met Suzanne Ramié at an exhibition of local crafts in Vallauris in the south of France in 1946, while he was on holiday with Françoise Gilot. That same afternoon he produced a small faun’s head and two bulls, and so began an association with the Ramié family and the Madoura pottery that would last for the next 25 years. During that first year, by all accounts a very happy one, Picasso and Françoise had a son, Claude, who shared his name with the patron saint of potters; Vallauris was also where Picasso met Jacqueline Roque, who was to become his most famous muse and second wife.
The works have an extraordinarily playful quality and include a plate with four entwined faces, vases in the shape of owls, Aztec vases with pre-Columbian stirrup heads (Vase Aztèque aux Quatre Visages, both 1957, estimates £25,000-£35,000 and £35,000-£40,000, third picture), a gold pendant (Visage en Forme de Trèfle, 1973, £7,000-£10,000, second picture) and bulls on just about everything (such as a terre de faïence platter, Taureau dans l’Arlène, 1948, estimate £4,000-£6,000, first picture), as Picasso invoked the spirit of the Spanish bullfight in the country he would not return to after Franco came to power in 1939. The most valuable piece is a stunning terre de faïence bird vase, also covered in scenes of the bullfight (Gros Oiseau Corrida, 1973, estimated at £60,000-£80,000, fourth picture), and the sale coincides with a major exhibition of his ceramics, currently in Sèvres until Monday May 19.
“There has been a renewed appreciation around the world for Picasso’s ceramics in recent years,” says Séverine Nackers, head of prints, Sotheby’s Europe. “Picasso was at his most inventive and playful when creating these pieces, and he imagined making his art more widely available to the everyman. Owning a Picasso is an achievable pursuit. Concurrent with the biggest exhibition ever dedicated to Picasso ceramics that is taking place in France, the Sotheby’s sale gives collectors the opportunity to choose from a remarkably broad range of prices for this body of work.”
And for those who want a painting by Picasso to complement one of his ceramics, some are coming up in a separate Sotheby’s sale at 7pm (EDT) on the same day in New York.