Specialist Imogen Kerr on why the artist wanted everyone to be able to own one of his works — plus, an essential guide to understanding stamps and markings
Each of Pablo Picasso’s ceramic works was marked in some way. Some bear a stamp or mark on their underside, some on the reverse, and even inside, in the case of vessels. These stamps and markings differed between editions, and evolved over time.
For collectors, an understanding of these marks can be incredibly useful when examining works. Here, we give an overview of those Picasso used most frequently.
The most common markings and stamps found on Picasso ceramics read Madoura Plein Feu, Edition Picasso, Empreinte Originale de Picasso and d’Après Picasso – all of which indicate an authentic limited edition.
Each of these is very useful for authentication purposes, although if in doubt, consult the experts. Over time, specialists at Christie’s have developed an eye for questionable stamps and markings, while external experts may be called in if there is any further ambiguity.
The catalogue description for any Picasso ceramic featured in our sales specifies the edition’s ‘date of conception’. This date indicates the year Picasso imagined and created the design, which may not be the year in which it was made; the potters in Madoura would execute editions over a number of years.
Some ceramics feature the edition number, which should be taken into account when examining the piece. The smaller the edition number, the earlier the work was produced. Although these earlier works are more valuable, their age means their condition may not match that of later works.
Between 1947 and 1971, Picasso designed 633 different ceramic editions — many of which featured variations — as well as unique works. He explored and experimented with different techniques over time, playing with form, trying different glazes and engobe — a white or coloured slip coating — and engraving the clay’s surface.
Over the course of his career, Picasso developed two main production methods. The first saw him replicate the form and decoration of an original work as closely as possible. In the second, Picasso would etch a design into a dry clay mould, which could later be transferred onto fresh clay — producing an almost exact replica of the original image in reverse.
Works from later editions, AR 613 to 633, often bear the marking Poinçon original de Picasso on their underside. The Poinçon is a punch stamp that Picasso made by engraving into linoleum, with several different designs. Each Poinçon was applied to the fresh clay or terracotta plaques or tiles. The artist made his last edition in 1971.