Written By: Fanny Lakoubay & Conner Williams, Published in artnetnews
At the end of the 1940s, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) started creating ceramic works. At the time, Picasso spent his summers on the Cote d'Azur in the South of France. Following earlier trips to the Riviera, where he was inspired by the clarity of the light and the bright Mediterranean colors, the artist visited Vallauris for the annual pottery exhibition in 1946. Impressed by the quality of the Madoura works, he was introduced to the owners, Suzanne and Georges Ramié, who welcomed him into their workshop, and gave him access to all the tools and resources he needed to express his creativity with ceramics. In exchange, the Ramié family would produce and sell his ceramic work. This collaboration with the local ceramicists spanned 25 years.
Picasso went on to create clay pieces throughout the last years of his life. He initially found that working with clay was a relaxing summer respite from the more strenuous demands of painting. He began with simple utilitarian objects, such as plates and bowls. He then proceeded to create more ambitious forms, such as pitchers and vases, where the handles became facial or anatomical parts of the animal depicted. The subjects are very creative and playful, and include Greek mythological figures, animal shapes, such as owls and fishes, corrida scenes, and face motifs, among others.
This experience with clay was also a success for Picasso's personal life, as he met Jacqueline Roque at the Madoura factory in 1953, who would become his second wife in 1961.
The state of the Auction Market for Picasso ceramics has steadily grown over the past decade,with seasoned collectors and new buyers alike vying for Picasso's editioned and unique ceramics at auction. This market is stable, with a steady high sell-through rate around 89% (87% in 2004, 89% in 2005, 87% in 2011, and 90% in 2012), and prices that are still lower than the rest of Picasso's work. The broad range of estimates and sales prices help make this market attractive to many collectors, but also explain the high average sales prices, which are skewed by a few exceptional pieces. In the previous two years, more than 60 exceptional ceramic works sold for over 100,000 US Dollars.
About 50 years ago, when Picasso began creating ceramics in collaboration with the Madoura Pottery workshop, he intended the pieces to be accessible and affordable. As such, he created some works in editions of 500 or more, and made them available for purchase directly from the workshop. Today, Picasso's ceramic works are still readily accessible, available at auction, in art galleries, and in the private market. Contributing to the availability of these works is the current demand for them, which has steadily grown over the past 10 years. This is the result of a number of factors.
First, the general rise of the Picasso market has contributed to the availability of these works. Today, Picasso remains one of the highest-grossing artists at auction, with a total sales value of 335,264,574 US Dollars in 2012, and 411,503,575 US Dollars in 2013. Second, the increase in the market for Picasso originals has resulted in a number of buyers being “priced out." Thus, a number of these ceramic works have replaced the desire for more costly and sought-after unique paintings, drawings, and sculpture.
The affordability of Picasso ceramics has long been maintained by major auction houses. Because of the large catalogue of Picasso ceramics produced—over 600 wares in a 25-year span—it has not been difficult to source Picasso ceramics for auction. This has resulted in their pricing at fairly modest estimates, which creates competition and often yields results above high estimates. These above-high-estimate results have naturally earned the attention of other Picasso ceramic collectors, who in turn may become consignors in future auctions.