Picasso: Ceramics from a lost period
by Peter Krause
My parents used to take us to a small village in the hills of Provence every year in summer during the school holidays. I realise now that what I witnessed there were the last echoes of the Côte d’Azur of the 1950s and 60s, the world of Françoise Sagan’s novel Bonjour Tristesse, a world of terracotta coloured canvas awnings over Café terraces where actors, writers and artists enjoyed a long aperitif - a jolly crowd having just escaped Paris by the Nationale 7 road.
The people in our quaint holiday haven were by then almost all retired, but they had been young adults during the bright years of the Côte d’Azur. Our next door neighbour was a secretive woman with whom I would eventually build a friendship that was to last over many years, once the geeky teenager had gotten past the defensive lines of her guarded self. I became her improbable confidant with whom she shared stories of her youth and of the people she had met. When she mentioned Picasso for the first time, she might as well have mentioned having met Gauguin, so remote did these figures seem to the fourteen year-old I was.
It was in 1946 in Vallauris that Pablo Picasso started experimenting with pottery and different techniches of glaze in the Madoura pottery workshop owned by Suzanne and Georges Ramié, whose work had much appealed to him whilst visiting a crafts fair. This was the start of a collaboration of 24 years during which Picasso created over six hundred pieces that were made in limited editions marked Édition Picasso and Madoura and would see an enormous international success. Every time I come across a piece of his ceramics these days, it conveys - beyond the admiration of the artistic skill - a sense of warmth, as if for a moment they take me back to scorching Provence afternoons spent in the rocky garden of my friend. She had, as a student, worked in the Madoura studio for several years. On the shaky garden table under the Mulberry tree she would lay out her relics of that time, notes, journals and other ephemera. For instance, the catalogue of a vernissage on which she had scribbled the names of famous people she had met that night. “Jacqueline (Picasso) always charming” she had jotted down, alongside a note saying that Picasso wore brown canvas trousers and that the poet Prévert was polite but not handsome. On that evening she was too shy to ask Picasso for a drawing or an autograph and much regretted it.
There is one piece in particular which is one of the most outstanding amongst Pablo Picasso’s ceramic works, which I think is due to its great simplicity. It is a convex medallion titled ‘Jacqueline’s Profile’, on which with a few simple strokes, Picasso makes her appear like a Grecian woman from Antiquity, the beauty of her features set in… clay! I was so very excited when one example in immaculate state joined our collection.