LONDON- At first glance, Pablo Picasso’s ceramics may seem an almost antithetical gesture by the 20th-century master who is credited with radically transforming painting. Yet in their seductive shapes, vibrant colours and celebration of figures – classical, mythical and real – these works perfectly reflect the artist’s lifelong passion for cracking material mysteries in order to find new means of expression.

Picasso first tried his hand at ceramics in 1946 while on holiday in the south of France. There, in a small town called Vallauris, he visited Madoura Pottery and made the acquaintance of its owners, Suzanne and Georges Ramié. The artist sat at a bench and the Ramiés handed him a lump of clay. He completed a trio of small figurines – a faun’s head and two bulls – thanked them, and went on his way. They did not hear from Picasso until the following summer when he returned carrying a cardboard box full of maquettes for ceramics he wished to produce with them. So began a prolific working relationship that lasted until the artist’s death in 1973, and that produced thousands of vases, pitchers, plates, bowls and more, unique as well as editioned. 

On 18 March, Sotheby’s London will offer a selection of works from Madoura. “The sale gives a great overview of the last 25 years of Picasso’s life,” explains Séverine Nackers, Senior Specialist and Head of Prints for Sotheby’s Europe. “Every kind of ceramic he produced is represented here.” According to Nackers, two of the auction’s many highlights pay homage to the women who bookended the artist’s time with the workshop: a tripod vase of Françoise Gilot, 1951, and a terre de faïence vase from 1957 adorned with four faces (shown above), said to have belonged to Jacqueline Roque who worked at Madoura and later became Picasso’s muse and second wife. It is not so surprising that Picasso found new passions at Madoura, for as he told his biographer Pierre Daix, “this is where I feel
at home.” 

Pablo Picasso, Chouette (R.S. 543), 1968, ₤7,000-9,000.
Pablo Picasso, Vase Aztèque Aux Quatre Visages (A.R. 402), 1957, ₤30,000-40,000.
Pablo Picasso, Vallauris (A.R. 331), 1956, ₤6,000-8,000.
Pablo Picasso, Visage No. 202 (R.S. 495), 1963, ₤3,000-5,000.