LONDON – Marilyn McCully discusses the deep connection between drawing and ceramics in this collection of more than 100 works on paper and 70 ceramics and sculptures from the artist’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso.
When he was at school, Picasso claimed, he used to misbehave in the classroom in order to get himself banished to a little room “with whitewashed walls and a bench to sit on. I liked it there, because I took along a sketchpad and drew incessantly. . . . I was isolated and no one bothered me – drawing, drawing, drawing. I could have stayed there forever drawing without a stop.” Picasso’s habit of drawing – something he did practically every day throughout his long career – underpinned all his artistic achievements, in every medium.
PABLO PICASSO. PHOTO BY DOUGLAS GLASS, © J.C.C. GLASS.
The drawings in Picasso in Private: Works from the Collection of Marina Picasso, to be offered on 5 February at Sotheby's London, mark important stages in Picasso’s development as a mature artist and include early sketches, some made in Spain before he moved to France, and a wide variety of later works on paper. They allow us to trace his traditional and, at times, non-traditional use of drawing techniques and materials, and to follow his working methods as they evolved. There are a significant number of Cubist drawings in the collection, in which the complexities of representation and perspective are explored. Several of these works on paper relate to paintings, while others were made to elaborate creative ideas.
The collection also includes a substantial group of ceramics. They date from the late 1940s, when Picasso began working at the Madoura pottery in Vallauris in the South of France, up until his last years. Fired clay offered a new avenue of artistic experimentation and, at the same time – like other aspects of his art in his later years – revived his identification with the Mediterranean region and its artistic traditions. Certain shapes, such as the plat espagnol, and subjects, such as the bullfight, he explored with great wit, inventiveness and, it could be said, a sense of nostalgia. In his works in clay, Picasso employed familiar techniques of drawing, painting, printmaking and modelling, as well as experimenting with the ceramic process. His desire to push the boundaries of the medium led him to create a method, which he saw as having the same potential as printmaking, for issuing original ceramic impressions in series, his Empreintes originales.
Sometimes Picasso’s activity in one medium spilled over into another. Throughout his career, he would often return to the practice of cutting paper, which was a traditional Andalusian activity – as a child he had made paper dolls or decorations. A Cubist object such as Pipe (lead image; estimate £40,000–60,000) seems to anticipate his cut and incised objects made of clay. Just as a piece of paper could be transformed into a pipe, a slab of clay could be turned into a mask or face. The absence of clay takes on meaning: the incisions become eyes, mouth and nose. Picasso also made use of sgraffito (scratching), a ceramic technique very similar to drawing. Instead of painting a line on a dish or a pot, he would often scratch through a coloured surface to reveal the base colour of the clay, as seen with his vase, Trois Masques à Quartiers.
PABLO PICASSO, TROIS MASQUES À QUARTIERS (ESTIMATE £40,000–60,000).
All these drawings and ceramics remained with the artist until the end of his life and held a special meaning for him. Together they stand as a record of the enormous enthusiasm and creativity with which Picasso explored his subjects and materials.
Marilyn McCully is an art historian and internationally recognised expert on Picasso. Among many other books she has published, she is author of Picasso’s Drawings and Picasso in Paris 1900–1907.