Collecting guide: Picasso Ceramics

Picasso produced such a dazzling variety of ceramic artworks, it can be hard to know where to start. Christie’s specialists offer tips for prospective buyers, from the markings to look for to choosing the right motif for a particular setting

Pablo Picasso in his workshop studio in Vallauris, with work from the Madoura pottery, circa 1948

Pablo Picasso in his workshop studio in Vallauris, circa 1948. Photo: © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images. Picasso’s works & likeness © Succession Picasso / DACS, London 2024

There is a Picasso Ceramic for everyone

Pablo Picasso designed 633 different ceramic editions between 1947 and 1971, with a number of variants and unique pieces resulting from these initial works. He began by creating simple, utilitarian objects such as plates and bowls, but later produced more complex forms, including pitchers and vases — their handles occasionally shaped to form facial features, or anatomical parts of his animal subjects.

Picasso remains one of the highest-grossing artists at auction today, and the range of his ceramics means it’s easy to find a work that is both an investment and an object you’ll love. So there really is a perfect Picasso Ceramic for everyone.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Pichet espagnol (A.R. 244), 1954. White earthenware ceramic vessel, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Height: 8⅞ in (22.7 cm). Estimate: $8,000-12,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Familiarise yourself with Picasso’s techniques

Over the course of his career, Picasso explored a number of different ceramic techniques — experimenting with paint, playing with form, or engraving the clay’s surface. Eventually, extensive research led him to adopt two main production methods. 

The first was based on the painstaking replication of an original object by hand, following its form and decoration as closely as possible. The second method involved the artist creating original images in dry clay moulds, then transferring the design onto fresh clay; works made in this way carry the mark ‘Empreinte Originale de Picasso’.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Jacqueline au chevalet (A.R. 333), 1956. White earthenware ceramic plate with coloured engobe and glaze. Diameter: 16½ in (41.9 cm). Estimate: $20,000-30,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Pay attention to stamps and markings

Every ceramic produced by Picasso features a stamp or marking, which can be found on the underside of the work, on the reverse, or even inside the piece. Some editions also include their edition number (e.g. 85/150) or a date.

These stamps and markings differ from one edition to another, and evolved over time. The most common, however, are ‘Madoura Plein Feu’, ‘Empreinte Originale de Picasso’ and ‘Edition Picasso’.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Hibou rouge sur fond noir (A.R. 399), 1957. Terracotta platter, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Diameter: 17⅛ in (43.5 cm). Estimate: $10,000-15,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Look at the work’s condition

When deciding whether to buy any ceramic, it’s important to know how to assess its condition. Here, date can provide a useful guide. It is very rare, for example, to come across ceramics from Picasso’s earlier editions that are still perfect. If shown, the number of the edition should also be taken into consideration — a work that is number one in a series of 500 (1/500) will have been made much earlier than work numbered 500/500.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Vase deux anses hautes (A.R. 141), 1952. White earthenware ceramic vase, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Height: 15¼ in (38.7 cm). Estimate: $25,000-35,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Another consideration is whether the ceramic is glazed, unglazed or partially glazed; it is not uncommon to find faint handling marks on unglazed areas. Ceramic, however, is a complex medium, and small imperfections resulting from the production process should not be confused with condition issues. Cracks from firing, crazing (very fine cracks in the glaze) and marks from the studio are all part of the beauty of the final piece.

Pick motifs that suit your surroundings

Whether it is one of Picasso’s famous bullfighting scenes, a visage plate, an owl, goat or fish piece, or a portrait of his last muse and second wife, Jacqueline Roque, each work will sit differently depending on its surroundings. A particular design might fit better in one room than in another, depending on its shape and colour.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Visage au nez noir (A.R. 609), 1969. White earthenware ceramic pitcher, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Height: 13 in (33 cm). Estimate: $30,000-50,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Visage aux yeux rieurs (A.R. 608), 1969. White earthenware ceramic pitcher, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Height: 13¼ in (33.3 cm). Estimate: $30,000-50,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Consider your groupings

Many of our clients will have more than one Picasso Ceramic at home. When deciding to buy a new piece, they will often be influenced by what is already in their collection.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Taureau gravé (A.R. 32), 1947. White earthenware ceramic plate, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Length: 15¼ in (38.7 cm). Estimate: $8,000-12,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Some will seek out works that can easily be displayed alongside the rest of their collection, choosing to echo a particular theme or style. Others will pursue a ceramic that is completely different from anything they already own, gradually amassing examples of a range of Picasso’s editions.

Recognise your preference

The sheer variety of Picasso Ceramics is part of their enduring appeal. Recognising your preferences, however, can help to refine the collecting process considerably.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Tête de femme couronnée de fleurs (A.R. 237), 1954. White earthenware ceramic vase, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Height: 9 in (22.8 cm). Estimate: $18,000-25,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Chouette (A.R. 603), 1969. White earthenware ceramic vase, partially engraved, with coloured engobe and glaze. Height: 11 in (28.2 cm). Estimate: $12,000-18,000. Offered in Picasso Ceramics until 3 June at Christie’s Online

Take time to consider whether you attach more importance to the shape and colour of the work, or prefer to focus on other aspects, such as the size of the edition, the year of conception, or the condition of the work. Do you prefer plates or vases? Naturalistic or mythological creatures? Colourful or rustic styles? Whatever your taste, there is a Picasso Ceramic for you.

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