Before his sixtieth birthday, Picasso had already carved out an indelible place for himself in art history. He had co-founded Cubism, evolved through his various “periods,” painted “Guernica,” engraved and etched his famous “Vollard Suite,” and been the subject of a major Museum of Modern Art retrospective, among other extraordinary and historical milestones.
Most artists over 60—with that many accomplishments behind them—would not still be searching for new artistic horizons to explore, but Picasso was no ordinary artist.
He was always searching, always experimenting with new ways to express himself artistically. Following the end of the Second World War, a fateful trip to the South of France inspired a whole new chapter in his career.
Picasso designed 633 different ceramic editions between 1947 and 1971, with a number of variants and unique pieces resulting from these initial works. Although he began by producing decorated utilitarian objects, such as plates and bowls, he later produced more complex forms such as pitchers and vases — their handles occasionally shaped to form facial features, or anatomical parts where they depicted animals.
Over the course of his lifetime Picasso explored a number of different ceramic techniques, experimenting with paint, playing with form, or engraving the clay’s surface. Eventually, extensive research led him to adopt two main production methods. The first was based on the painstaking replication of an original object by hand, following its form and decoration as closely as possible. The second saw the artist create original images in dry clay moulds, transferring a design onto fresh clay — works made using this method carry the mark Empreinte originale de Picasso.
n July 1946, Picasso visited Vallauris, France for the first time in the company of Françoise Gilot (mother of Claude). The small coastal town was known for its pottery, and Picasso quickly became enamored with the ceramics being produced by the Atelier Madoura, owned by Suzanne and Georges Ramié.
Picasso had experimented with pottery in the past—firing a few vases with sculptors like Paco Durrio and Jean van Dongen—but witnessing the work at Madoura lit a fire in the artist.
He partnered with the Ramiés to begin producing his own ceramics, ushering in one of the most prolific periods of his career.
But why was Picasso, an artist who had explored other artistic mediums before, so interested in ceramics?
There were several reasons. One was that he was intrigued at how quickly and inexpensively he could create these new ceramic works. In an era when only the wealthy could afford his paintings and sculptures, Picasso welcomed the notion that his pottery and ceramics could potentially be owned by everyday people in the post-war world.
Since Picasso created his ceramics while on holiday, his creations often feature a sense of joy and wit. Picasso also met his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, at the Madoura Pottery workshop, further contributing to his uplifting motifs during this time.
He also loved the idea of his ceramic works being both aesthetically pleasing and functional—he frequently gifted his pots, plates, pitchers, and bowls to friends and family members.
According to Claude Picasso, his father’s involvement with his ceramics was “so profound and personal… that, until recently, it went unrecognized as a significant part of his oeuvre.”
Today, art lovers truly appreciate the significance of this phase of Picasso’s career. The ceramics he produced while working at Madoura have been acquired by some of the most notable collectors of modern art and now appear in museums all over the world.
“Give me a museum and I’ll fill it”.
– Pablo Picasso
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