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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 NADFAS REVIEW / SPRING 2012 29 CERAMIC ART

Levi Attenborough, was appointed Principal of University College, Leicester, in 1932, and both Richard and his brother, the natural history broadcaster David, spent their childhoods exploring the collections at New Walk. Their mother, Mary, had also been President of Leicester Drama Society during the 1930s, where the young Richard cut his teeth as a child actor in productions at the Little Theatre.As Elizabeth Wilson points out, these personal and family connections give Attenborough's gift to the city "a very personal resonance. It also continues a long philanthropic tradition in Leicester that I think Lord Attenborough is very conscious of and keen to continue. "The collections that founded the museum in 1849 were gifted by Leicester's Literary and Philosophical Society and, even today, our acquisition budgets come entirely from our visitors by way of donations."It was a personal tragedy in 2004 that brought the gift forward, as Lord Attenborough himself explained to me."It was something we were thinking about, but when we lost our daughter, Jane Holland, and her daughter, our granddaughter, Lucy, in the Asian tsunami, my wife suggested that the collection could be a wonderful memorial. So that's what this collection has now become. Jane loved Picasso, and the children often came with us to Madoura, where Suzanne Ramié would be delighted by their endless curiosity. We hope now that people will take as much pleasure in these works as Jane did."The Picasso Ceramics GalleryThe very personal nature of the Attenborough collection is refl ected in the catalogue, by Marilyn McCully and Michael Raeburn, produced by New Walk to coincide with the opening of the permanent exhibition gallery. The technical and historical notes are combined with the Attenboroughs' own recollections of the stories behind the purchase of each piece, while an introduction places the collection into the context of Picasso's own creative relationship with the Madoura pottery.Although now recognised as one of the most comprehensive private collections of Picasso's ceramic works, Attenborough himself notes that he and Sheila "just bought the things we liked."He adds: "There was no attempt to build a catalogue of types and styles beyond that. Once we were considering the gift to New Walk, we did begin thinking a little more like actual curators and bought a few pieces at auction to fi ll certain gaps, but otherwise we bought whatever we happened to like ourselves."As for Picasso's continuing appeal, Above: Little Owl, 1969Right: Heads of Women, Aztec vase, 1957 30 NADFAS REVIEW / SRING 2012 ART