Perhaps a liberating sense of freedom arises when artists work in a discipline distinct from – and yet allied to – their main area of creativity. Or maybe a desire to experiment prevails. Either way, the results can be remarkable. This was particularly true for Pablo Picasso, whose holiday encounter in 1946 with the owners of Madoura pottery in the south of France led him to create a huge number of eye-catching, often playful, ceramics. Now a lively group of his vases, pitchers, plates and bowls is up for sale at Sotheby’s London on Wednesday March 18 at prices (£800-£55,000) that make it possible for many Picasso aficionados to own one of his works.
Around 150 pieces – both one-offs and editioned designs – are available, including Joueur de Diaule, a platter from 1947 (£5,000-£8,000), the first Picasso ceramic design to be made as an edition. It is numbered 108 of 200, with both the Madoura and Edition Picasso back stamps.
A number of motifs associated with Picasso stand out within this selection, including the peace dove, owl, horse and bull. There’s a unique Colombe de la Paix platter from 1954 (£35,000-£40,000, second picture) signed in green paint and dated “7 Juin 54” with the Madoura stamp. Picasso made 13 plates with variations on this motif for the 13th Congress of the French Communist Party. Chouette, an owl-shaped vase from 1968 (£7,000-£9,000, third picture), is numbered 251 of 500 and incised “Edition Picasso” and “Madoura”, while a Picador bowl (£1,500-£2,500) from an edition of 500 made in 1955 depicts a matador and bull, evoking the artist’s Spanish heritage.
The face is another recurring motif throughout Picasso’s work. Here it pops up in Service Visage Noir (£30,000-£40,000, fourth picture), a complete set of 12 plates and one dish, from an edition of 100 made in 1948. Each piece is inscribed “Pour Catherine et Jean Louis” and was probably a wedding present – as was the first set, presented as a wedding gift to Prince Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth in 1949. Further face designs (fifth picture) include Visage No 157 (£5,000-£7,000), numbered 109 of 150, and Visage No 193 (£5,000-£7,000), numbered 100 of 150, both dating from 1963.
Picasso’s women make their presence felt in various ways. Pichet à Glace (£20,000-£25,000, first picture), a water pitcher from 1952 numbered 40 of 50, resembles a woman’s face, with the spout and neck painted to suggested her hair, while Canard Pique-Fleurs (£25,000-£35,000), a pitcher made in 1951 and numbered 26 of 50, shows Picasso playfully making a woman’s head double as the shape of a duck.
“The sale gives a great overview of the last 25 years of Picasso’s life; every kind of ceramic he produced is represented here,” says Séverine Nackers, head of prints, Sotheby’s Europe. Picking up a Picasso has rarely been easier.