The strength and depth of the Picasso ceramics market was put to the test when Christie’s South Kensington offered the vast 543-lot Madoura Collection.
Many of the pieces had remained untouched
for decades at the Madoura Pottery studio in Vallauris in the South
of France where Picasso had created them some 50 years ago. The
collection, comprising only his editioned ceramics, was being sold
by Alan Ramié, the author of the definitive catalogue raisonné of
Picasso ceramic editions, and the son of the owners of the Madoura
During Picasso's time there, from the mid
1940s to the start of the 1970s, he created more than 4000 vases,
plates, pitchers and other forms, hundreds of which were turned
into editioned pieces.
Christie's specialist India Phillips said:
"This was a democratisation of his artwork, a more affordable and
accessible medium for people who would have been able to purchase
an editioned piece back in the 1960s and 1970s for only £30 or
Editioned Picasso ceramics were made in
multiples of 25 to 500, and the more limited the edition, the more
desirable and expensive the piece. Condition and subject matter
also greatly affect prices. Pieces in mint condition and decorated
with images typically associated with Picasso, such as a bull, fish
or bird, tend to prove more popular with collectors.
It took the auction house a week to wrap and
remove the collection from the studio, which also included posters,
photographs, books and furniture. The sale presented buyers with
the last opportunity to purchase pieces directly from where they
were made. "This was the closing-down sale - the end of the
production line," said Ms Phillips.
Above: Picasso working in the studio at
Vallauris by André Villers, one of a number of photographs included
in the sale. It sold at £6500.
The results were exceptional. Over 13 hours
of bidding from the room, phone and internet across two days from
June 25-26 saw every lot get away to total £6.5m, around four times
the estimate, with many lots greatly exceeding their price
The number of registered clients almost
matched the number of lots on offer as bids were accepted from 43
countries, with the highest number coming from Europe and the US.
The Christie's press and marketing machine had been in full swing
before the sale and the high level of publicity attracted over 40
new clients. Highlights from the collection were also displayed in
Hong Kong and Paris.
Particularly effective were features in
interior decorating magazines both in the UK and abroad, as Ms
Phillips noted: "With this type of exposure, we were able to reach
out to a wider base of people, which was reflected in the number of
new clients, an impressive figure when you consider for most
Picasso ceramics sales there are perhaps just one or two new to
A pair of buyers based in China, a bidder in
Thailand and an Indian client were among the strongest newcomers,
and active throughout the sale.
The first 136 lots offered in an evening
session contained the higher-valued items and provided the majority
of the sale's total, with all ten top lots featured here. This
included the sale topper, Grand vase
aux femmes voilées, which fetched over six times its top
estimate to break the record for a Picasso ceramic edition at
The second session a day later was an
all-day affair and made up the bulk of the sale in volume at 406
lots. This catered for the middle and lower range, with most
estimates from £100-5000.
Despite the strong provenance, estimates for
the sale were kept low so as not to deter those more concerned with
other factors such as condition or subject matter. Not only did the
strategy pay off, but the attractive price guides fuelled impulse
purchases evident throughout the sale. Indeed, says Ms Phillips,
such is the strength of this market at present that estimates will
need to be re-assessed before Christie's next sale as they no
longer reflect the current market value for Picasso ceramics.
But the market has not always been so
buoyant and, as with many collecting fields, prices have fluctuated
greatly. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, designated sales of
Picasso ceramics were commonplace at Christie's, Sotheby's and
Bonhams, with prices almost as high then as they are now.
These dried up, particularly as demand in
the Far East fell away. Only recently has demand stepped up once
more and designated sales returned.
Picasso ceramics sales are now dominated by
two types of private buyers: wealthy professionals based in the UK
who buy at the middle and lower range and the multi-million-pound
clients active in the UK and abroad who spend vast sums.
"These sales are their equivalent of a trip
to John Lewis and they are not bothered by spending £200,000 on a
piece estimated at £50,000," said
As for the trade, only a handful of
galleries worldwide specialise in Picasso ceramics, so
participation at auction is minimal.
Offered alongside the sale's top lot were
two other large female figure vases also conceived in 1950 and
executed in an edition of 25 which found buyers at multi-estimate
prices: Grand Vase aux Danseurs, measuring 2ft 4in (72cm),
took £220,000 and Grand Vase aux Femmes Nues,measuring 2ft
1in (67cm), made £280,000.
There was also plenty of interest in the
first session for Gros Oiseau Visage Noir, a partially
glazed ceramic vase measuring 22in (56cm), made in 1951 and
executed in an edition of 25. Bold, with black and white markings
and a trianglular face to the body, it sold for almost five times
the top estimate to make £240,000.
A partially glazed orange and white Gros
Oiseau Picasso vase in an edition of 75, measuring 22in
(58cm) and conceived on March 23, 1953, comfortably doubled its
estimate to sell for
One of Picasso's favourite motifs was the
bull, and there were plenty of examples for buyers to choose from
here. The most dynamic was a 12in (30cm) glazed ceramic pitcher
from 1955 decorated with a charging bull on the body of the vase.
Executed in an edition of 100, Taureau found a buyer
for triple the estimate at £80,000.
A terracotta service comprising eight
plates, each with a different bull-fighting scene, was also
strongly pursued. Measuring 16in (40cm) in diameter, the plates
were each made in an edition of 50 and sold well above the top
£30,000 estimate to reach
While working in Vallauris in 1954, Picasso
was inspired by the local mythology of the legendary Provençal
monster, the Tarasque, an unstoppable beast with a lion's head, the
body of an ox, bear's legs and a curved scorpion's tail, which
ravaged the local landscape. Picasso produced his 12in (30cm)
interpretation of the animal in an edition of 50 and an example
here sold for £54,000 against a £20,000-30,000 estimate.
Producing some of the sale's most
competitive bidding was a fully-glazed ceramic vase of a large owl
measuring 18in (47cm) and estimated at just £6000-8000. Conceived
in 1951 and executed in an edition of 200, the popular piece sold
Above: Footballeur - £35,000.
The pick of three decorative but unglazed
earthenware sculptures was Footballeur, an 11¾in (29.8cm)
piece conceived in 1965 in an edition of 50 which sold for five
times the estimate to make £35,000.
Grande Tête de Femme au Chapeau
Orné, the largest of a series of trademark Picasso
abstract female faces on terracotta plaques included in the sale,
sold for £70,000 against a £10,000-15,000
The only items which failed to muster the
kind of competition witnessed throughout the rest of the sale were
Picasso's white earthenware plates. Although they got away mostly
on bottom estimates, they proved too rudimentary (since he was
experimenting with clay) to muster any strong demand.
It is too early to see how this landmark
auction will affect future sales of Picasso ceramics but one thing
is certain: Christie's will be flooded with consignments.
The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.