Jacqueline Roque first met Picasso when she started working in the shop at the Madoura pottery in Vallauris in 1952. The life they shared lasted until Picasso’s death, and she was his muse as well as his wife and companion. Among the works he gave her were a number of ceramics, which seem to have had a special meaning for him. These pieces reflected Picasso’s own preference for the popular forms and techniques of decoration that he experimented with to transform ordinary objects into art. When in 1982 Jacqueline offered to lend 41 unique pieces from her own collection to a large exhibition of Picasso’s ceramics planned for Barcelona, she surprised everyone at the opening with the news that she intended to donate these works to the city.


At the invitation of Suzanne and Georges Ramié, Picasso had begun working at their Madoura pottery in 1947. He especially liked the challenge of working on three-dimensional objects:

a plate, through decoration and carving, could be turned into a head; a group of women or dancers could endlessly surround the body of a jug; or the concave interior of a bowl could give the illusion of volume to the creature depicted in it. Some of the works hark back to ancient pottery tradition, and Picasso decorated a whole series of cooking vessels, three of which are included in the donation, with his own version of Greek vase painting; these were done in a remarkable burst of creativity that lasted just a few days. The image of the owl also makes reference to ancient ceramics: he could turn the handle of a pot into an owl; or use the raised centre of a large round platter to create the body of the winged creature; or transform a tall vase into the whole bird. Spanish art was very much in the forefront of Picasso’s mind in his later years, and this can be seen both in his choice of traditional formats – the plats espagnols – and the imagery of the bullfight.


Among the latest works in the donation are a series of impressive empreintes originales – a method Picasso created with the help of Georges Ramié’s son Jean for making ceramic “impressions” (like original prints from a press) from a plaster mould carved by the artist. Picasso transformed these plates into heads, which with their anguished expressions and pitted surfaces offer a reflection of the artist himself in old age.


This exhibition celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of Jacqueline Picasso’s donation of 41 works to Barcelona. That fact that she chose ceramics is fitting, for pottery remained at the heart of her relationship with Picasso over the course of the two decades they spent together.