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Reviewed by:
  • Picasso and Ceramics
  • Elissa Auther (bio)
Paul Bourassa, curator. Picasso and Ceramics Éditions Hazan and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. xi, 288. $79.99

Picasso and Ceramics is the catalogue for the 2004 exhibition of the same title organized by the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. The book contains five engaging and informative essays chronicling Pablo Picasso' s turn to ceramics, the evolution of his prodigious body of work in the medium, and the details of his working relationship with the Atelier Madoura in the village of Vallauris, France. The book is well illustrated, containing over two hundred and fifty colour and black and white images documenting the exhibition and the evolution of Picasso's work as a ceramicist. In addition, there is a very useful, comprehensive bibliography of books, articles, and exhibition catalogues pertaining to Picasso's ceramic oeuvre.

As Paul Bourassa, curator of the exhibition 'Picasso and Ceramics' and lead author of the catalogue, notes, the aim of the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue is 'to demonstrate the importance of Picasso's contribution to the history of the discipline.' Bourassa means the history of the discipline of ceramics, in which Picasso's 'discovery' or turn to clay in 1947 has always been viewed with some suspicion. I would argue that the book makes a similar case for the importance of Picasso's work in ceramics to art historical scholarship about the artist. Despite the seriousness and intensity of Picasso's engagement with the medium of clay (his ceramic oeuvre is estimated to be as large as 4500 pieces), this body of work is still often neglected and dismissed as 'decorative' or a leisure-time pursuit in Picasso scholarship. Picasso and Ceramics works both to legitimize Picasso's work in clay as an important contribution to the discipline of ceramics and to redress the ignorance and prejudice towards ceramics as a medium of art that lie at the root of its marginalization and denigration in art history's treatment of Picasso's career.

Each of the essays contributes to this twin objective. Bourassa's lead essay 'Encounters with Ceramics,' demonstrates that Picasso's interest in pottery was not sudden but went back to his early encounters with and admiration for the work of Spanish and French artists such as Paco Durrio and Paul Gauguin, both of whom produced pivotal works in ceramics in the 1880s and 1890s. Under their influence Picasso produced sketches for vases in 1902 or 1903 and produced his first works in ceramics in 1906. Along with Bourassa's essay, which goes on to chronicle in detail the continuing evolution of Picasso's work in ceramics through 1969, Harald [End Page 329] Theil's essay, 'The Preliminary Drawings for Picasso's Ceramics,' makes the case that Picasso's works in clay are essentially that of a ceramist in the way they demonstrate a conscious adaptation of historical sources and the conventions of the discipline. Theil focuses on the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic works Picasso produced in the late 1940s, which were at once vessels and sculptures, to make his point. Readers interested in the history of ceramic workshop production will be delighted with Yves Peltier ' s essay, 'Madoura,' about the eponymous atelier founded by Suzanne Ramié in 1938 in the village of Vallauris, where Picasso worked from 1947 to 1971. Ramié played a central role in the revival of traditional French pottery from southern France as well as made a name for herself with innovative designs based on her reinterpretations of these traditional forms and their glazes. The repertoire of forms Picasso used for his anthropomorphic and zoomorphic works were those Ramié had revived. A related essay by Marie-Noélle Delorme discusses the posters Picasso produced for the annual exhibition of the Association Vallaurienne d'Expansion Céramique from 1948 to 1964. The final essay, 'Ceramics: Sources and Resources,' coauthored by Léopold L. Foulem and Paul Bourassa, provides a wealth of information regarding Picasso's techniques and formal appropriations that, once again, makes the case for the artist as technical master and conceptual innovator in the field of ceramics and the history of art.

The aim of legitimizing...


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