Grand vase aux danseurs by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso is a large-scale vase that was conceived in 1950, while the artist was living and working in Vallauris, a small town renowned for its pottery, in the South of France. 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.
Working with a wide range of ceramic objects, including plates, 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. Grand vase aux danseurs, with its combination of white paint and terracotta figures incised with flowing, continuous lines, demonstrates the powerful and innovative way in which the artist poured his creativity on to a three-dimensional object.
The stylised and simplified figures, including a seated pipe-player and dancing woman, that gaily cavort across the surface of Grand vase aux danseurs, are reminiscent of the nymphs, satyrs and other mythological characters, drawn in the most minimal of means, that abounded in Picasso's painting and drawing of the time. It was not just mythological subjects and motifs that inspired Picasso during this period, but also the tradition of classical pottery. The curving form of Grand vase aux danseurs, as well as the contrast between the white and terracotta colours, is reminiscent of the Greek and Roman vases of antiquity. Picasso once stated, 'The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was' (Picasso quoted in E. Cowling, 'An Intensive Form of Play: Picasso's Postwar Sculpture and Ceramics', in Picasso: The Mediterranean Years 1945-1962, exh. cat. New York, 2010, p. 309). For Picasso, the Madoura studio in Vallauris and the production of a variety of ceramic pieces enabled him to forge a new and distinctive art form that embodied both past and present.
Grand vase aux danseurs presents not only Picasso's novel venture into the medium of pottery, but, with its carefree figures who appear in a state of joyful abandon and harmony, encapsulates Picasso's happiness and new-found joie de vivre that he experienced at this time. The war was over and, happily ensconced in Vallauris with his lover and mother of his young children, Françoise Gilot, Picasso not only rediscovered the idyllic French Riviera and the mythological themes and subjects that it engendered, but also found a new medium and with that, a new direction for his art which would prove infinitely abundant for years to come.