Pablo Picasso Ceramics at Auction
The recently opened exhibition, Picasso Sculpture, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is a clear signal of the resurging interest in the three-dimensional work of Pablo Picasso. It is the first such U.S. museum show in half a century to focus on this aspect of the Spanish artist’s oeuvre. The exhibition specifically looks at the unique, and experimental sculptural pieces Picasso created throughout his career. Visitors are left with the sense that they have discovered a new Picasso, one not seen in his more academic paintings.
Picasso had no training as a sculptor, but he played with the medium from the start, partially in response to his interest in African and Oceanic sculptures. A natural extension of the pieces that he cast and carved in bronze and wood was his work in ceramics. In the late 1940s, the artist began to collaborate with the Madoura ceramic studio, located in Vallauris, France. The owners of the workshop were Suzanne and Georges Ramié, who welcomed Picasso into their studio and gave him access to all their tools and resources. In return, they would produce and sell his ceramic work. Picasso found working with clay to be less strenuous than painting, and his creativity and playfulness shines through. Plates, bowls, vases, and pitchers often depict Greek mythological figures, animals, facial motifs, and bullfighters.
Picasso intended to have his ceramics be more affordable and easily available to purchase by the throngs of tourists visiting Southern France. Over the course of twenty-four years, approximately 633 pieces were created in limited editions, all engraved with the Madoura stamp, which the public could directly buy from the workshop. Today, the artist’s ceramics are still readily available at auctions and art galleries, and are far more accessible than his original paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Due to the large catalogue of ceramics produced, auction estimates are kept moderate, which creates competition and high results. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers sales frequently feature Picasso ceramics, where they are consistently snapped up by eager buyers. Below are examples of just a few successful sales in this category:
Notable businessman and philanthropist Gerard L. Cafesjian’s collection included a Picasso ceramic plate, offered at an estimate of $5,000-7,000 in the October 12-13, 2015 auction of his decorative and fine arts. The plate realized $7,500. Picasso’s often tongue-in-cheek sensibility can be seen in the Dali-esque moustache and surprised eyes that peer out of the plate’s checkered pattern.
This vase from a St. Louis collection realized $37,500. The anatomical form includes handles that act as arms, which rest on the “hips” of the curvaceous figure.
From the same sale, a plate featuring a classic corrida scene sold for $11,250, against an estimate of $5,000-7,000. The dynamic scene is classic Picasso, with the energy of the bullfighter and his opponent clearly felt in the slashing lines and forms.
Picasso often depicted in owls in his ceramics, such as this vase that hailed from an estate in Columbus, Ohio, and sold for $8,125. The body of the vase forms the body of the young owl, which looks out seriously at the world, eyebrows drawn.
For collectors interested in learning more about Picasso ceramics, a dedicated catalogue raisonné was published in 1974 by Georges Ramié, the owner of the Madoura workshop, and updated in 1988 by Alain Ramié. The workshop also has a website with many of the ceramic pieces available to view, at www.madoura.com.