Pablo Picasso, the forge & the kiln: the art of partnership

Picasso’s relationship with Egidio Costantini echoes his partnership with Suzanne and Georges Ramié, of the Madoura Pottery in Vallauris, France. The two men initially met in the small French town in 1954, though their working relationship would begin a few years later when Peggy Guggenheim invited the artist to Venice. These encounters in Vallauris were pivotal in Picasso’s mature career. At a time when he had established himself as the major artist of the 20th century with his astonishing range of painting and sculpture, Picasso entered new territory via relationships with these three master craftspeople.

The Ramié's created large editions based on original prototypes made by Picasso himself. Suzanne’s sculptural ceramics were inspiring canvases for the artist, who discerned the form of a sleeping goat or dancing woman in the profile of a vase.  In contrast, Costantini translated the artist’s drawings into glass sculptures. Produced in very limited editions, these works rarely come on the market. Their luminous, reflective qualities give them a certain depth and changeability absent in the ceramic works, special in their own way.

Costantini, master of La Fucina degli Angeli (the Forge of the Angels) on the island of Murano, outside of Venice, transformed the centuries-old tradition of Italian glass blowing into a modern art. Originally trained as a radiotelegraph operator, botanist and bank clerk, he only began working with glass in 1945. Just as the first practitioners of photography aimed to establish their medium on the same level as painting and sculpture, so the Italian sought to elevate glassblowing from craft to fine art. Costantini knew how to promote his practice, and secured partnerships with such artists as Alexander Calder and Jean Arp. A 1965 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, recognized the importance of these rare sculptures, which are housed in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, amongst other notable collections.

In June of this year, the auction of over 540 objects from the Madoura Pottery at Christie’s London exceeded pre-sale expectations by more than four times, bringing in a total of £8,082,300 ($12,584,141). This was the last opportunity for collectors to purchase ceramics directly from the studio, where many lots had remained, untouched, until this summer. A new world record was set for the highest price achieved at auction by a Picasso ceramic when Grande vase aux femmes voilées sold for £735,650 ($1,145,407), more than ten times its pre-sale estimate. The enormous success of this sale confirms the collectible value of the Spanish artist’s fantastical pitchers, vases and dishes.

With fewer original paintings, drawings and graphic works on the market, Picasso glass sculptures and ceramic works are having their day.