March 17, 2021

Picasso and Madoura. How a painter became a ceramist

Weronika Daniluk

Pablo Picasso portrait by Arnold Newman, 1954, source: J. Paul Getty Museum © Estate of Arnold Newman

 

How did it happen that a recognized artist, whose works already achieved very high prices during his lifetime (suffice it to say that Picasso paid for the purchase of a house in the south of France by selling only one of his paintings), at the age of 65 decided to work with a completely new technique which in addition was the craft ̶ cheap and available in mass production?

 

Vallauris is a town in the south of France that has become important to Pablo Picasso both professionally and privately. The brilliant Spaniard vistited the south of France for the first time in 1946 for the annual pottery exhibition, during which he made several models as a guest artist at the Madour studio, opened and run by the married couple Georges and Suzanne Ramié. A year later, Pablo began a regular cooperation with them, which lasted a total of 25 years, until his death in 1973. The artist met his second wife Jacqueline Roque at the studio, she worked there as a saleswoman. Her image adorns some pottery works.

 

What was Pablo's collaboration with the Ramiés?

 

Picasso handmade models of dishes, which were then copied in limited series by Madoura's employees. The first ones were often given away or kept by the artist himself. The second one was created with sales in mind from the very beginning. The later, the larger the editions, but the maximum number of copies of one model never exceeded 500.

 

 

Picasso for everyone

 

In the 1950s, Madoura products signed by Picasso were sold as tourist souvenirs. In the difficult post-war times, the artist liked the idea that his works could be accessible to anyone. As he said, anyone could buy a "real Picasso". At that time, these products cost about $ 50.

Picasso with his Afghan Hound dog Kasbek on the beach, photo: Man Ray, 1935, source: J. Paul Getty Museum, © Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

The road to mastery

 

The painter was certainly captivated by the challenge related to the new medium and the utilitarian aspect of ceramics ̶ it was a completely new aspect in his rich oeuvre. Without formal preparation in this matter, the artist honed his pottery skills by trial and error. At first, the end results, especially the color change of the enamel due to firing, were a surprise to him. But the mastery was in his hands. A video has survived, in which the artist transforms an ordinary, oval form of a vase into a figure of a duck with just a few movements. Over the course of a quarter of a century, Picasso has personally created about 3,500 products. Over 600 have been duplicated as subsequent editions of Madoura. In total, as part of the so-called The Picasso edition (Edition Picasso) has produced nearly 120,000 products!

 

Common motifs

 

‘It is strange, in Paris I never draw fauns, centaurs, or mythical heroes… they always seem to live in these parts.'

source: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/73925 (accessed: 17.03.2021)

 

Picasso was very much inspired by the ancient heritage of the Mediterranean civilization, which is also his personal heritage. The imaginarium of figurative representations on Madoura's pottery included human figures - onlookers watching the bullfight, or even specific people (for example, the previously mentioned wife Jacqueline), animals and mythical creatures such as a centaur or a minotaur. It is also worth mentioning the representations of Esmeralda's goat, which, according to an anecdote, the artist allowed to sleep at home. Corrida is a recurring theme in the Spaniard's play. Also present in ceramics ̶ not only as a decoration, but also to be seen in the form of clay vessels ̶ the elliptical vases and bowls resembled the arena.

 

The battle between Christie's and Sotheby's

 

Picasso's ceramics, initially created outside of the official art market, began appearing at auctions in the 1970s. It is worth mentioning the two competitive auctions that took place in London the same day. On June 24, 2015, Sotheby's sold the collection of Pablo's granddaughter, consisting of over 100 objects made by him, and Christie's exhibited Picasso Edition ceramics. Interestingly, despite the fact that the products made personally by the master received higher amounts than the signed editions, the difference in amounts was smaller than expected.

The bottom of the bowl marked ‘Edition Picasso’