Lot 202
  • 202

Pablo Picasso

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Grand vase aux femmes nues
  • Inscribed Vallauris, numbered 1, dated Mai 50 and stamped Madoura plein feu and Empriente originale de Picasso (on the interior)
  • Incised and painted terracotta
  • Height: 25 3/4 in.
  • 65.4 cm


Private Collection, United States (and sold: Parke Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, February 4, 1970, lot 44)
Acquired at the above sale


Georges Bloch, Pablo Picasso, Catalogue de l'oeuvre gravé céramique 1949-1971, vol. III, Bern, 1972, no. 20, illustration of another example p. 28
Georges Ramié, Céramique de Picasso, Barcelona, 1974, no. 689, illustration of another example p. 277
Alain Ramié, Picasso, Catalogue de l'oeuvre céramique édité, 1947-1971, Madoura, 1988, no. 115, illustration of another example pp. 64-65


The work is in excellent condition. The surface is very slightly dirty with a few small scuffs, however there are no nicks, chips or cracks apparent.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

After visiting Picasso at Vallauris in the Côte d’Azur, Jean Cocteau reported in his diary, “The potter’s assistant tells me, 'M. Picasso knows the work as well as any of us now, but he dares what we would never dare imagine or try'" (Picasso. The Mediterranean Years 1945-1962 (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, London, 2010, p. 328). Picasso’s creative exploration of ceramics in the post-war period exemplifies his most inventive and yet most classical work, reflecting on the rich history of the region’s most traditional art form. His encounter with pottery happened by chance in July 1946 while vacationing at the seaside resort town of Golfe Juan. Picasso was introduced to Suzanne Douly and Georges Ramié, owners of the celebrated Madoura studio in the neighboring town of Vallauris. Picasso’s friend the poet and artist Jaime Sabartés claimed that he was so immediately enamored by the pair’s atelier that he sat down on a bench in their studio that very afternoon and passed the rest of that day modeling small clay figurines with his hands.Ceramic production in Vallauris dates back to Roman times, when the area was a center of amphorae production thanks to its plentiful endowment of distinctive pinkish-red clay. After his initial encounter, Picasso returned to Madoura in 1947 and would continue to work there throughout the 1950s, initiating a passion that he would pursue until the end of his life. Pierre Daix extolled that "Picasso found in [ceramics] a plastic liberty without equal. But he took particular delight in the constantly renewed surprises of transmutation of oxides, ceramic slips and colours…he was able to jolt tradition, with his models as much as with his use of enamels" (Pierre Daix, Picasso. Life and Art, London, 1994, p. 298). This Grande vase aux femmes nues is an evocation of the master at his most elegant and antique: the simple "oikoumene" form draws attention to the frieze of entwined women that wraps around the vessel’s curved edges, drawing inspiration from the canonic Greco-Roman motif of the Three Graces. This piece is indicative of Picasso’s oeuvre around 1950, when his fascination with archaeology was at its peak.

Most often present in classical art of the second and first centuries B.C.E. as a flat motif carved into sarcophagi or realized three-dimensionally in sculpture, the Three Graces are here infused with Picasso’s characteristic eroticism. By transferring the image to a curved surface, the sensuous nudes both evade and engage the viewer in a coquettish dance, uniting form and content as the smooth indentation of the vase itself echoes the form of the female bodies depicted on its surface. Picasso’s experimentation in ceramics was therefore deeply enmeshed with his experience of working with the material itself. Using the earth-toned hues of rosy clay and white slip, he juxtaposes the alabaster hue of antique sculptural fragments with the apparent ruddiness of female flesh. As in some of his most daring ceramic work, such as Vase positif negatif (see fig. 1), Picasso manipulates the interplay between material and pictorial image, probing the vessel as a utilitarian versus decorative work of art and turning the relation between form and function on its head.

The clarity of the incised female forms demonstrates a painterly agility and ease of articulation unique to Picasso and revelatory of the playful simplicity of his most iconic works on paper. This piece—the first of an edition of 25—is among Picasso’s most sought after ceramic production, which as a whole has experienced a significant reevaluation in the last five years. Following the 2014 exhibition Picasso céramiste et la Méditerranée at the Musée national de céramique in Paris and Sotheby’s white-glove sale of the ceramic collection of Marina Picasso in 2015 (Picasso: Earth and Fire, June 25, 2015), Picasso’s ceramics have come to be understood as a critical aspect of his wider artistic output and a raw, unfiltered distillate of his creative energy. In particular, the Vallauris works from the early 50s featuring animate motifs and a natural color scheme are among his most desirable (see fig. 2), as they distill Picasso at both his most experimental and historically engaged.