Picasso… hot ceramics?

[02 Mar 2021]

Picasso remains the most sought-after and valued artist in the world. His 2020 auction performance once again elevated him to the global number 1 position, both in terms of auction turnover ($245.4 million) and in terms of lots sold (nearly 3,400). Despite all the upheaval and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Picasso’s market status stood as solid as a rock and he quite clearly remains the global art market’s primary ‘reference’ artist.
Priced in the millions when it comes to paintings, drawings or sculptures, Pablo PICASSO’s signature is still accessible to middle-market collectors via ceramics. Indeed, it is still possible to acquire an original Picasso masterpiece made from ‘earth and fire’ for less than $5,000. When you consider that even a tiny Picasso oil painting fetches over a million and even a palette used by the Modern genius sells for around $30,000 (Palette de l’artiste (1973) sold online by Sotheby’s on 18 June 2020), his ceramic creations look like exceptionally good value.  

In accordance with tradition, the Ramié couple offered their guest a ball of earth from which two bulls and a faun were immediately modeled. The following summer, when he returned to Vallauris and discovers the three fired pieces, it was like a revelation… Franck Leclerc, “In the footsteps of Picasso in Vallauris”

Picasso’s ceramics began to emerge from the shadows in the 1990s thanks to an exhibition organized by gallery owner Ernst Beyeler in Switzerland and the publication of an important work – Ceramics by Picasso (1999) – by Marilyn McCully, curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In 1999, the author affirmed that Picasso’s ceramics “have been neglected, so to speak, until today (1999) by most museum and exhibition curators, who are unfamiliar with the works and in many cases ignorant of their existence.” This is obviously no longer the case; the best Picasso ceramics have been likely to fetch over a million dollars for nearly ten years already. Last week, Sotheby’s dispersed 117 ceramics from the Nina Miller collection during an extended online sale from 11 to 23 February, generating a total of $3.5 million, with results often higher than the estimates.

117 ceramics dispersed at Sotheby’s

The ceramics produced by Pablo Picasso as of 1946 at the Madoura workshop in Vallauris (in the south of France) perfectly illustrate the artist’s creativity and originality: jugs, vases, plates, dishes, pitchers, decorated with images of bulls, birds, fauns and women. The Spanish master produced more than 3,500 ceramics over 25 years. The best works not only received a motif by Picasso, they were real sculptures, like his Duck Flower-holder, a 1951 piece illustrating Picasso’s play with forms, infusing the everyday object with the attractive  silhouette of the palmiped.

During Sotheby’s recent online sale, his Duck Flower-holder fetched $267,000 (Canard pique-fleurs), more than double its high estimate. Three or four years ago, these amusing birds (there are 50 of them in total) were fetching around $50,000. Increasingly sought-after these works are also becoming exceptionally rare. The smaller pieces in the sale also often exceeded their estimates, such as a trinket bowl adorned with a Crested Bird (from an edition of 500) which fetched $4,000, whereas they were regularly available for half that price a few years ago. True, the format of Sotheby’s online sale – over a long period of 12 days – made it possible for buyers from all over the world to compete.

So are the prices of Picasso’s ceramics soaring? Rather than a “surge”, it would be more accurate to speak of a natural increase in prices. Prices are rising, of course, since works bought for $10,000 around 2010 are now trading between $15,000 and $20,000 and they may not have completed their ascent; but this increase is just a reflection of the general rise in the value of Picasso’s work.


Picasso : Price Index at auction


Best result of Sotheby’s February 2021 online sale:
His Gros oiseau visage noir (1951) sold for $462,000, twice its high estimate. This very beautiful earthenware vase is a non-commercial copy from an edition of 25.

Absolute record for a Picasso ceramic:
In 2018, One of his Le hibou gris (1953) sold for $2.4 million at Christie’s. A work of painted earthenware, it has the particularity of being a unique work.

The results for pieces from a same edition are sometimes very different and non-professional buyers need to ascertain the condition of the piece by requesting a condition report. The value can be halved if the ceramic has been damaged.