LONDON – “Some day, after hundreds of thousands of years […] on finding so many ceramic remains, hallucinating eyes, owls, horses, bulls, breasts, doves, difficult arabesques, they will say: once on this earth there was a marvellous epoch we’ll call Picassiana” (Rafael Alberti, The Eight Names of Picasso, New York, 1992, p. 83).

Look no further for ceramics Picassiana, for it is coming to Sotheby’s!


126 of the very best examples of his groundbreaking work in clay will be offered in London on 25th June and available to view in in our galleries for six days beforehand. This exceptional collection of unique ceramics coming directly from Picasso’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso, is one of the most extensive and important groups of the artist’s work in this medium. From the very beginning, Picasso’s approach to ceramics was characterised by a remarkable sense of freedom and innovation. As Pierre Daix writes, “Picasso found in that medium a plastic liberty without equal” and this freedom is reflected in abundance in the artist’s very physical and spontaneous approach to his work in clay: in the brazen reconfigurations and manipulations of traditional pottery forms, in the slashes, the pulling apart, the punctures, the deep incisions. It is in encountering his unique ceramics that we come closest to Picasso’s wonderfully raw and impulsive process. He was utterly captivated by the elemental and primitive aspects of working with clay and relished the new artistic opportunities that it opened up for him. The difficulty of anticipating colours and colour combinations that were only fully revealed after the firing process added an element of unpredictability that fed Picasso’s creative process: it was, in Pierre Daix’s words, “to paint, in fact, as if blindfolded…it was a gamble that thrilled him, for the result was outside his control.”


So how did one of the most famous artists of his day – already world famous by this point – find himself in these primitive surroundings, completely engrossed (to the point of near obsession) in a practice that other artists so often snubbed? Well…It was in July 1946 – during a stay at the nearby coastal resort of Golfe Juan – that Picasso first met Suzanne Douly and Georges Ramié in their now famed Madoura studio in the town of Vallauris, which they had opened in 1938 and whose name ‘Madoura’ combined the first syllables of ‘maison’ and their surnames. Picasso’s friend, the artist and poet Jaime Sabartés, tells us that Picasso made this trip to Vallauris with the sole intention of distracting himself, but that during his chance meeting with the Ramiés, he was so excited by ceramic as a medium that he immediately sat down on a bench and spent the afternoon modelling small clay animals in his hands. The experience ignited a spark of inspiration which was to prove deeply compelling and when Picasso returned to Vallauris the following year, in the Autumn of 1947, he was armed with a sketchbook full of ideas and set to work in a fury of inspiration, coming to the Madoura studio almost daily. He also returned to find that the little works he had modelled on that first afternoon of activity in 1946, and which he had left behind, had been fired and then carefully looked after by the Ramiés, who had hoped that he would one day visit again. The warm welcome that the team at Madoura gave Picasso on his return to the studio marked the start of wonderfully nurturing and lifelong friendships and offered an environment that helped germinate his inspiration.


The move to Vallauris in 1947 helped shape a period of great happiness and productivity in his life: in the same way that the Fauves had found inspiration and vitality in the Mediterranean light forty years earlier in 1905-06, Picasso was completely energised by his move down to the South. He was very much in love with his earthy young lover Francoise Gilot at the time (whose voluptuous beauty inspired many of the works in this collection) and rejuvenated by their adorable young children Claude and Paloma. All this contributed to an unbounded joy and sense of contentment that is clearly reflected in the playful character of his ceramics. Picasso’s son Claude has vivid and very fond memories of his thrilling first encounters with his father’s ceramics: “Working with the primal elements fire and earth must have appealed to him because of the almost magical results. Simple means, terrific effect. How ravishing to see colours sing after internal fires have given them life. The owls managed a wink now. The bulls seemed ready to bellow. The pigeons, still warm from the electric kiln, sat proudly brooding over their warm eggs. I touched them. They were alive really. The faces smiled. You could hear the band at the bullfight.”

We hope you will enjoy exploring the sale on our E-catalogue and look forward to welcoming you to our London galleries in June to see this very rare and exciting group of works first hand. Come and see the winking owls for yourself! Picassiana calling!

Vase au Col Penché, 1948. Height: 39.5 cm.; 15½ in. £70,000–90,000.
Buste d’Homme, 1965. 51 by 25.5 cm.; 20⅛ by 10 in. £100,000–150,000.
<>I>Vase blanc, circa 1953. Height: 18.8 cm.; 7⅜ in. £150,000–200,000.
Femme, 1948. Height: 26 cm.; 10¼ in. £120,000–180,000