Picasso’s Series, Deconstructed

Pablo Picasso first met Suzanne and George Ramié in 1946, at a pottery exhibition in Vallauris, France. A year later, he returned to the couple’s pottery studio in Vallauris to work on his own pieces, and continued to create ceramic works from the late 1940s to 1960s. The ceramic pieces in our online-only sale, Picasso Ceramics, featuring property from the estate of Edwin and Lindy Bergman (24 Oct.-7 Nov.), show similar motifs employed in Picasso’s paintings, from mythological forms to abstract faces, along with subjects especially close to his heart, like bullfighting.

As Keith Gill, Head of Department and Associate Director, Impressionist & Modern Art in London, explains, the Spanish artist’s love affair with La Corrida has been with him his whole life. In Gill’s deconstruction below, we learn about the process to make the Service Corrida series.


Bullfight imagery is a consistent theme across Picasso’s painted, printed and ceramic oeuvre. As soon as he learned to walk, the young artist attended bullfights, and his first drawing of one was in 1890, when he was nine years old. This activity became a lasting fascination throughout his adult life, with Picasso often identifying himself with the brave and mysterious picador.


Picasso first started working at the Madoura Pottery workshop in 1947, which was owned by Suzanne and George Ramié. This is the first time we see bullfight imagery appear in an editioned ceramic. This series of plates was conceived 12 years later, in 1959. This diverse and consistent use of bullfight imagery is reflected in a number of lots in the sale, from lot 12 through to lot 70.


Finding a complete set of the Service Corrida is a rare opportunity as many of the services produced by Picasso were broken up in the 1980s and 1990s. Service Corrida was executed in a numbered edition of 50 examples, and the plates in the present lot are all numbered 26 of this edition. Eight colourful plates, each with a diameter of 42 cm., make a stunning decorative statement, and a wonderful highlight of the sale.


The shapes of platters, bowls and vases lent themselves to a more three-dimensional representation of the bullfight because of the possible analogies of their shapes with the bullring. In Corrida aux personnages, Picasso has used the shape of the platter to create the shape of the arena, with the audience looking down on the bullfight from around the rim. In the present lot, Picasso has used eight different plates to present different scenes from the bullfight, starting with Paseo. Many of the plates use these same simple dots to represent the crowd looking down upon the different scenes playing out in the centre.


The plates in the service have been decorated in a similar way. First, large areas of white glaze have been used against a light grey-black oxide background, to highlight the raised lines typical of the empreinte method used by the Ramiés to create many of the editions Picasso produced. (Which are each stamped Empreinte Originale de Picasso on the underside.)

Painterly blocks of blue, yellow, brown or green glaze have then been used to distinguish between certain elements of the plates. In Bandilleros, the yellow glaze has been used to highlight the picador, the brown to highlight the bull and the blue to highlight the arena crowd. A unique touch to these plates is that Picasso used small pointillist dots of black or dark blue glaze, joined in lines, to bring out more details of the individual elements.

Picasso also created another series of eight plates at the same time, using the same empreinte designs, but in terracotta. The decoration of these plates is highly simplified, using matt black oxide to highlight the details against the plain terracotta background. The comparison between the bright colouring of this service, and the terracotta examples—offered at Lots 55-57 in the sale—is startling.