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Picasso at playPablo Picasso began working with ceramics in his later years as he sought a new medium to continue his infl uence on the art world. Many of these works can now be viewed at New Walk Gallery in Leicester after Lord Richard Attenborough and his wife, who have strong personal connections with the gallery, chose to donate their collection. Wayne Burrows tells the story behind these intriguing pieces 28 NADFAS REVIEW / SPRING 2012 www.nadfas.org.ukCERAMIC ART

In 2007, a temporary exhibition at Leicester's New Walk Museum & Art Gallery showing Lord Richard and Lady Sheila Attenborough's personal collection of Picasso ceramics was enormously successful. As a result, the museum last year launched a new exhibition gallery dedicated to the ceramic works of this 20th-century master. "Ceramics was the medium in which Picasso showed his powers of artistic transformation in the most inventive way," says renowned Picasso expert and curator of the permanent exhibition Dr Marilyn McCully. "Working on the Mediterranean coast in the last 20 years of his life, he drew his inspiration from mythology, popular traditions and his own creativity which had revolutionised modern art," she adds. The gallery space highlights a good selection of Picasso ceramics on a rotating basis. "These works are always here for visitors to see," explains Elizabeth Wilson, Interpretation and Learning Manager at New Walk.The 40 pieces on display this spring are more than adequately representative of the strengths to be found across the whole collection, ranging from plaques and sculptural vases to platters and jugs decorated with goats, nudes, bullfi ghters, birds and faces. Taken together, the displays show just how energetically Picasso's invention and humour responded to the new medium it discovered at the Madoura Pottery in Vallauris during the immediate post-war years.When I spoke to Lord Attenborough ahead of the temporary exhibition's opening in 2007, it was clear that he, too, found the accessibility of these works a key component of their value."I'd loved Picasso's work for years, but it was only when we discovered that he was making ceramics that the possibility of being able to afford something became a reality. "We sought out the pottery in Madoura while on holiday in 1954 and were able to buy a small ashtray for 30 francs. That one tiny ashtray was the starting point for everything you can see here today."Picasso at MadouraWhen the Attenboroughs acquired that fi rst white earthenware ashtray, decorated with a bull, 100 francs was equivalent to around £2, and affordability was one of the key attractions of ceramics as a medium to Picasso himself. Picasso was acutely conscious that his works had become the preserve of dealers rather than ordinary people and insisted on making the creation of low-priced editions part of his contract with Georges and Suzanne Ramié, the proprietors of the Madoura pottery.When the artist fi rst met the Ramiés, in 1946, he was already 65 years old and, at the war's end, in a strangely contradictory position. He was by far the most celebrated artist in the world, but after half-a-century as innovator in chief to the art world's various avant-gardes, from cubism to classicism, surrealism to primitivism and abstraction, his infl uence was in sharp decline, as younger artists moved to embrace the Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art that would come to defi ne the 1950s and 60s. There was a risk that Picasso would be stranded, a protean presence whose importance lay increasingly in the past.The ceramics changed all that, giving Picasso the opportunity to immerse himself in an entirely new medium. As he became expert in the effects of glazes and fi ring techniques, he moved from the transformation of platters into faces, jugs into owls and vases into female bodies, to more complex series of portraits, where the shapes of the vessels became integral to his designs. His 1957 Heads of Women drew inspiration from Aztec models, while 1960s Large Green Bird Vase sketched a few lines that suggested its lively subject on a specially designed vessel. One of Lord Attenborough's personal favourites, the 1951 tripod vase of Francoise Leaning on Her Hands, is a vivid sketch that blends presence with sculptural playfulness in equal measure.The Attenborough ConnectionBy the time of the Attenboroughs' fi rst visit to Madoura in 1954, the collaboration between Picasso and the Ramiés was well established, and Attenborough himself had already marked himself out as one of the key fi lm actors of his generation. John Boulting's adaptation of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock had been released to wide acclaim in 1947, and fi lms like Sidney Gilliat's London Belongs To Me and Roy Boulting's The Guinea Pig (both released in 1948) had marked the beginnings of a very successful cinema career for Richard Attenborough. Although Attenborough's fi lms made the collection possible, a lesser-known connection between the Attenborough family and New Walk Museum decided its ultimate destination. Attenborough's father, Frederick ? Opposite: Head of a goat on a vase, 1952Below: Lord and Lady Attenborough at home with their collectionAbove: Face on a round square plate, 1959All photos: © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2011www.nadfas.org.uk NADFAS REVIEW / SPRING 2012 29 CERAMIC ART