Picasso, Earth & Fire at Sotheby’s

Hand-painted vases, plates and sculptures for sale in London

A radical reassessment of Picasso’s ceramics has been taking place over the past few years: what was once thought of as a playful diversion is now considered a skilled activity comparable with his expertise in painting or sculpture. So a sale in London of 126 pieces belonging to the artist’s granddaughter Marina Picasso, which have never previously left the family, is generating considerable excitement among collectors and Picasso fans.

The sale precedes Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale and covers the gamut of Picasso’s work in clay. The selection of hand-painted plates, vases, tiles, hand-modelled figures and sculpture includes early examples from 1947, when the Spanish artist first began experimenting with the material, right up to pieces created in the late 1960s. “The collection offers an incomparable insight into Picasso’s work in clay and shows the extraordinary breadth of his creativity and versatility,” says James Mackie, Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art specialist.

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A chance meeting with Suzanne Douly and Georges Ramié at their Madoura studio in Vallauris initially ignited Picasso’s fascination with ceramics in the summer of 1946. He immediately started modelling small clay animals and, returning to Vallauris the following year, found that the figures had been fired and kept safely at the pottery. Filled with enthusiasm for the material’s potential, he began working daily at the studio and created a range of objects, inventing his own engaging shapes and imbuing the surfaces with eye-catching imagery.

Highlights in this sale include some remarkable vessels such as the double swan neck Abstraction vase from 1953 (estimate £150,000-£200,000, second picture) and zoomorphic Cabri vase (£120,000-£180,000). Vase négatif positif (£180,000-£250,000) from 1954 playfully reinvents the traditional vase form, while Abstraction géométrique (£70,000-£90,000, third picture) elevates the humble olive-oil vessel to a work of art.

Femme (£120,000-£180,000) – a small sculptural form created in 1948 – and Femmes fleurs (£100,000-£150,000) reference the recurring motif from his paintings of abstracted female figures; a striking male face stares boldly from Buste d’homme (£100,000-£150,000), painted on two glazed square tiles. Animal and bird motifs feature strongly – Chouette (£30,000-£40,000, fourth picture), a painted and partially glazed ceramic floor tile, is a standout example.

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Picasso used plates and dishes like blank canvases, and the sale includes many arresting images, such as Centaurs avec chouette (£30,000-£40,000) and Chouette sous les étoiles (£40,000-£60,000), each executed on a circular plate. Several plats longs are numbered and stamped “Madoura plein feu” on the reverse, like Pieuvre bleue (£40,000-£60,000, first picture) and Visage de Faune (£40,000-£60,000). And while many of these pieces are humble everyday objects, each, in its own way, is a charming and masterful work of art.

Searching for ceramics that make perfect presents? Take a look at these sculptural vessels and this celadon-glazed tea set, or commission a bespoke piece from this Milan atelier.

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