After World War II, Pablo Picasso decided to live and work in the Côte d’Azur. His deep fondness for the Mediterranean took him to Antibes and, before Cannes and Mougins, to Vallauris where he lived from 1948 to 1955.
Setting himself up in his studio in Le Fournas – an old perfume factory – he worked prolifically, trying his hand at ceramics – a new technique for him that had particularly caught his eye and was undoubtedly what prompted him to move to Vallauris, a town renowned for its pottery industry.
Picasso would go on to create thousands of artefacts in his Madoura ceramic studio, which had recently been taken over by Georges and Suzanne Ramié.
Plates, dishes, vases, jugs and other earthenware utensils were thus painted and decorated with enamel and metal oxides, which Picasso enjoyed using as their very nature meant that he never quite knew what the end result would be.
But the same crockery – once removed from the potter’s wheel – could also be transformed. A few skillfully produced twists metamorphosed them into an animal or a female nude, a faun or a Tanagra figurine.
Although Picasso’s stint in Vallauris was unquestionably marked by this fruitful burst of ceramic creation, he did not abandon his usual techniques for all that, such as linoleum engraving, sculpture – which he set about doing in a revolutionary way by incorporating everyday objects (The Goat, Woman with baby carriage, Monkey and her baby, etc.) – or painting, which took up an explicit dialogue with the works of the great Classical painters (Portrait of a painter after El Greco, Young Women on the banks of the Seine after Courbet).
But during this postwar period, Picasso’s art also made room for some episodes of contemporary history. Massacre in Korea, The Mass Grave and the famous Portrait of Stalin are evidence of the political involvement of the artist who, despite his recent registration with the Communist Party, continued to question form and work on its transformation without in any way subscribing to the precepts of Socialist realism. The terrible developments of recent history do feature, therefore, in Picasso’s work, but only implicitly. No more than mere clues imply that the precariousness that had gripped the world remains present in his work: the dislocated objects visible in many still-lifes from this period – human or animal skulls or lamps that give off the dim light harshly framing the whole. The abrupt forms Picasso endows objects with, and the varying shades of grey to which he limits his palette are beyond any doubt all aspects that shed light on the artist’s declaration: A saucepan can shout out too! Everything can shout out!
The work that Picasso produced over the seven years he lived in Vallauris also spoke volumes of his experiences there. Françoise Gilot, his partner at the time, as well as Claude and Paloma, the couple’s children, often featured in his paintings – going about their business or facing the onlooker full-on. The Mediterranean landscape and the town of Vallauris itself, with its black smoke rising from the kilns during baking, are also themes touched on by the artist. In the same way as the shadow cast by the urban smoke, in some paintings of female nudes (The Shadow and The shadow on the woman, both completed in December 1953) that of a man cast over the woman’s reclining figure also appears – at the very time that the artist’s own relationship with Françoise was breaking down. No sooner had he met Jacqueline Roche – a young woman who would become his second wife – the painter wasted no time depicting her in his paintings. It was at this time that life in Vallauris really picked up, for Picasso’s move there sparked a rush of artistic emulation: the painters and sculptors Victor Brauner, Marc Chagall, Edouard Pignon, Ozenfant and Prinner amongst others all came to work in the ceramic studios.