Over many years now, the Friends have raised funds to support a special gifting programme to Te Papa. Gifts have taken a range of forms, from individual works of artistic or cultural significance to a unique lectern designed specifically for Te Papa’s Marae. In 2015 fundraising has focused on the purchase of Pablo Picasso’s Picador, an earthenware jug with painted and glazed decoration, produced in 1952.

Just as other major artists of the 20th century such as Braque, Dufy and Leger became interested in ceramics, so too did Picasso (1881-1973). The plasticity and sensuality of clay offered him further potential for working in the three-dimensional form beyond sculpture.

Picasso’s first visit to Vallauris on the French Riviera in 1946 sparked the beginning of an enduring collaboration at Madoura, the pottery workshop owned by Suzanne and Georges Ramie. The arrangement of making and selling was to last until about 1971. Initially Picasso’s work was translated by a select group from the workshop, including Dominique Sassi; otherwise Picasso was to complete the works. Sassi was to later say of Picasso ‘no matter how experimental he got, he always seemed to have a clear idea in his mind of the final result’. Works were produced in editions – Picador is one of 500. It was a means by which Picasso was able to ensure that there was some sort of affordability in a market where his work fetched huge prices. With the deaths of the Ramies in the mid 1970s, A Catalogue of the Edited Ceramic Works 1947-1971 by son Alain was produced and has remained the sole identifier of ceramics by Picasso from Madoura. Picador is identified as catalogue number 162.

Reminiscent of Picasso’s love of the Spanish bullfight, Picador depicts the final moments of the fight where the lance is about to pierce the bull. As an artist, Picasso utilises all elements of the jug’s form: the lance motif wraps around the handle, while the bull is depicted in red against the black-glazed background of the jug’s body. Picasso draws on ancient Greek red-figure pottery, one of the most important figurative styles of Greek vase painting. But the narrative has moved forward from Greek myth to the contemporary subject of the Spanish bull fight. Picasso was to continue to work with the bull fight imagery in flat plates, large and small.

Picador complements other works by Picasso held at Te Papa – an etching and two lithographs. It also offers another side of his practice – one that connects to Te Papa’s Greek pottery collection and the red-figure tradition. By this kind of acquisition, we see how ideas can be drawn from the past and connect to more contemporary times.

Adapted from an article by:

Justine Olsen
Curator of Decorative art and design