i. Visage de faune - dated '28.6.55.' (centre right); numbered 14/20; diameter: 10 3/8 in. (26.4 cm.)
ii. Profil de Jacqueline - dated '22.1.56.' (in reverse; left rim); numbered 17/20; diameter: 16 ½ in. (42 cm.)
iii. Tête de taureau - numbered 17/20; diameter: 16 ½ in. (41.9 cm.)
iv. Visage aux mains - numbered 6/20; diameter: 16 5/8 in. (42.2 cm.)
v. Visage en forme d'horloge - numbered 17/20; diameter: 16 5/8 in. (42.3 cm.)
vi. Un poisson - dated '19.5.56.' (lower right); numbered 17/20; diameter: 16 ¼ in. (41.3 cm.)
vii. Dormeur - numbered 14/20; diameter: 16 ¾ in. (42.5 cm.)
viii. Visage aux feuilles - numbered 11/20; diameter: 16 ½ in. (41.7 cm.)
ix. Horloge à la langue - numbered 14/20; diameter: 16 5/8 in. (42.2 cm.)
x. Visage sur carton ondulé - numbered EXEMPLAIRE D'ARTISTE 1/2; diameter: 16 5/8 in. (42.2 cm.)
xi. Faune cavalier - numbered 16/20; diameter: 16 5/8 in. (42.2 cm.)
xii. Joueur de flûte et cavaliers - numbered 14/20; diameter: 14 5/8 in. (37.2 cm.)
xiii. Jacqueline au chevalet - numbered 2/20; diameter: 16 ¾ in. (42.4 cm.)
xiv. Centaure - numbered 17/20; diameter: 16 3/8 in. (41.5 cm.)
xv. Visage larvé - numbered 16/20; diameter: 16 3/8 in. (41.5 cm.)
xvi. Visage aux tâches - numbered 13/20; diameter: 16 ¼ in. (41.3 cm.)
xvii. Visage tourmenté - numbered 17/20; diameter: 16 ¼ in. (41.4 cm.)
xviii. Tête au masque - numbered 17/20; diameter: 12 ½ in. (31 cm.)
xix. Visage géométrique aux traits - 17/20; diameter: 16 in. (40.6 cm.)
Each sold with a certificate of authenticity from the Atelier Hugo.
This group of 19 silver plates was conceived in 1956 by the great Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso. Picasso was not only a great painter, sculptor and draftsman, but after the Second World War, he also began to experiment with the artistic possibilities of working with the medium of clay. Picasso’s ceramics from this period constitute an important part of the artist’s prolific career, and stand as a testament to his enduring creativity and ceaseless experimentation and invention as an artist. Each plate in this group was designed by the artist himself, and displays some of the greatest themes and motifs of Picasso’s art: a portrait of his lover, Jacqueline; mythological subjects including a faun, centaur and a flute player; and a bull, a symbol of the artist’s Spanish heritage. Cast in the precious metal silver, these plates have a unique quality among Picasso’s ceramic output, endowed with an opulence and durability. Every plate was individually decorated, selected, approved and treasured by Picasso who for many years kept them hidden from visitors and collectors, prizing them among his most precious possessions. Transformed from ordinary, ubiquitous objects, these plates become works of art, adorned by the hand of one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century.
Picasso’s interest in ceramics had begun a decade before he conceived of the present group of plates. Following the Second World War, in 1946, Picasso was able to visit the Côte d’Azur again and while holidaying there, visited the Madoura pottery studio in Vallauris by the owners, Georges and Suzanne Ramié. He returned a year later in 1947 and began to focus his attention on ceramics. Working with a wide range of ceramic objects, including plates, jugs and vases, as well as modelling sculptural objects, Picasso experimented with different glazes, paint effects, carving and etching, revelling in the diverse artistic possibilities that the medium of clay could produce. Within this group of 19 plates, the dazzling variety of Picasso’s techniques can be seen. In the wet clay, the artist incised lines, gouged out hollows and made protrusions, as well as creating interesting textures, such as the shimmering scales of the fish in Un poisson. With the simplest of means, the artist created a wide variety of effects, a reflection of his incredible creative inventiveness.
The idea to execute a set of plates in silver came about one day in May 1956. Having just received a new group of plates from the Madoura studio, Picasso remarked to his friend, the art historian and collector, Douglas Cooper, how impressive the group would look in silver, like the sumptuous, French and Italian metal dishes of the 16th and 17th Century (D. Cooper, Picasso: 19 plats en argent par François and Pierre Hugo, exh. cat., London, 1977). Picasso lamented that he did not know anyone who could undertake the project, and Cooper proposed that he enlist the assistant of silversmiths François and Pierre Hugo. The first plate to be executed in silver was Dormeur and Picasso was so happy with the result that just a few months later, he gave Hugo 18 more decorated plates in ‘biscuit’ (pottery that has been fired but not yet glazed) to be made in silver. Picasso was said to have loved the silver plates so much that he intended to keep them for himself. At first, only a handful of people knew of their existence, and when visitors came to the artist’s home he hid them away, ensuring their total secrecy. It was not until 1967 that Picasso authorised Hugo to produce twenty numbered plates of each design, along with four artist’s proofs.
Each plate of in this group of 19 has an individual motif: a variety of faces, centaurs and fauns, as well as a bull, fish, and a flute player all adorn the reflective surfaces of the object. These subjects and themes reflect the concerns of Picasso’s work in other mediums of the same time. In 1956, Picasso was once again painting mythological subjects with a renewed vigour. For Picasso, the south of France was steeped in the classical and mythological imagery of ancient times. Nymphs, satyrs, centaurs and fauns adorn Picasso’s work of this time and this is reflected in the designs of the plates. ‘It’s strange’, Picasso mused at the time, ‘in Paris, I never draw fauns, centaurs or heroes from mythology…it’s as if they live only here’ (Picasso quoted in M. McCully, ‘Painter and Sculptor in Clay’ in Picasso: Painter and Sculptor in Clay, exh. cat., London, 1998, p. 28).
The Profil de Jacqueline is one of the most striking and bold designs in this set of plates. Jacqueline Roque was Picasso’s second wife and his final, great love and muse. The artist had met the 27-year-old Jacqueline when she was working as a shop assistant at the Madoura pottery studio in 1952. In 1955, a year before he conceived this design, the couple had moved in together and settled at La Californie, a large and ornate mansion that overlooked Cannes on the south coast of France. Her image permeates Picasso’s work from this period, particularly her angular profile, which displays her dark hair and large, almond-shaped eyes that serve as the subject of a number of paintings, such as Jacqueline aux mains croisées from 1954 (Musée Picasso, Paris). The playful, inventive designs of the plates encapsulate Picasso’s great happiness and newfound love at this time. His last years are defined by a joyous outpouring of creation and experimentation, and nowhere is this more evident than in this unique group of plates.