Most people do not associate Pablo Picasso, best known for his paintings, sculptures and for defining 20th century art with his extensive range of techniques — with ceramic plates and bowls.
The current exhibition of Picasso’s ceramics at the Arlington Museum of Art offers a surprising insight into the prolific artist’s passion for creating in multiple disciplines.
“Picasso was one of those artists that tried all mediums. The ceramics are an interesting piece of the puzzle to understand Picasso,” said Chris Hightower, executive director of the Arlington Museum of Art.
Picasso began experimenting with ceramics later in his career when he was in his mid-sixties.
After attending a crafts fair featuring Madoura potters, he met Georges and Suzanne Ramies who operated Madoura Pottery in Southern France. Intrigued with ceramics and its artistic possibilities, he established a relationship with the Ramies that would allow him to freely explore ceramics.
The Ramies dedicated a space in their studio for Picasso to work whenever he pleased. They had all the equipment and supportive expertise he would need. From 1947 to 1971, Picasso created a multitude of pieces, allowing the Ramies to sell editions of his Madoura work and retain the profits.
It was an unusual arrangement only a prominent artist could establish.
“At this point in his career, Picasso was really successful and well-commissioned. Most artists don’t enjoy his success during their lifetime and he had the luxury to do different things,” Hightower said. “It was a good relationship for everyone concerned. Truly a win-win situation.”
The partnership yielded 633 pieces including an array of plates, bowls, vases and pitchers.
Hightower explained Picasso primarily focused on the design of the piece whether he was creating clay molds for designs or painting on plates or pitchers.
The artisans at Madoura would finish the prototypes and produce limited editions ranging from 25 to 500 pieces.
The ceramics included in the Arlington Museum of Art’s exhibition reflect Picasso’s recognizable style. He incorporated many mythological figures such as half-man, half-beast characters.
Elements from his neoclassical period and his line drawings are also prominently featured. Although these familiar themes are represented, the three-dimensional quality of ceramics gave him an opportunity to stretch himself artistically.
“He had more freedom to work with the physicality of the piece,” Hightower said.
Picasso threw very few of his own pieces and those ceramics are currently property of his family or select museums.
The ceramics on display in Arlington are the limited editions produced by Madoura Pottery. Because the ceramics were widely produced, many people who currently own pieces may not be aware that they own a piece of Picasso artwork.
Recently, art collectors have become intrigued with Picasso’s ceramics and the value of the ceramics has risen significantly.
Recognizing the potential value, many people are having their ceramics evaluated and appraised. In 2013, a woman brought an oval plate to Antiques Roadshow for an appraisal.
She sheepishly admitted the plate had been hanging over her stove, collecting layers of grease for several years. Her children admired the plate’s quirky smiling face, but the family was unaware of the plate’s value.
Antiques Roadshow appraiser Stuart Slavid revealed the plate she purchased for less than $100 in Rhode Island in 1970 was 1955 Picasso plate, valued from $10,000 to $15,000.
Another woman brought two plates she inherited from her grandparents to Antiques Roadshow in 2014 and she explained one of the plates had been used as an ashtray. Appraiser Nicholas M. Dawes estimated the Picasso plates were valued at $16,000 to $20,000 and gently suggested the ceramics should not be used as an ash tray.
The ceramics has made Pablo Picasso more accessible to the public and this exhibition further introduces the public to Picasso’s wide variety of style.
“This exhibition shows his willingness to learn an entirely new art form and make it his own. He not only pushed his boundaries in his most familiar medium, but all mediums. It shows what a great artist he was,” Hightower said.
Picasso’s ceramics will be on display until February 12, 2017 at the Arlington Museum of Art, 201 W. Main Street, Arlington, 817-275-4600, www.arlingtonmuseum.org