Picasso: Ceramics from the Attenborough Collection

York Art Gallery

28 July – 5 November 2017

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Picasso arrives in York with a sample of the extraordinary collection of ceramics gathered together by the filmmaker Richard Attenborough, during family holidays to the South of France. These are some souvenirs.

Pablo Picasso, Yellow Face Long Plate, 1947

The last chance to see a significant number of Picasso ceramics from the Attenborough Collection was at Sotheby’s in November 2016. It was called the finest collection of such works in private hands, but following the death of the director and actor Richard Attenborough in 2014, it was perhaps inevitable it should go under the hammer.

Fortunately for those without hedge funds, Attenborough also made a lifetime loan to the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester, the city where he went to school. It is many of these 100 works that have in turn been loaned to York.

It is perhaps the least celebrated side of his practice, but Picasso threw, baked and painted over 2,800 vases, pitchers, plates and additional forms. Many of these became editions, affordable at the time, but now less so.

That’s impressive for an artist who only began working with earthenware at the age of 65. But it is said that Picasso came to the medium as a way of closing in on the origins of art. No mere decoration, clay became a canvas for the master, and his themes – women, bulls, owls, and fauns to name a few – were as old as antiquity.

Attenborough’s famous acquisitions were enabled by holidays to the South of France. The family would travel year after year to the same hotel on the Cap d’Antibes – and in 1954 the filmmaker first visited the Madoura pottery studio in Vallauris, where the prolific genius of 20th-century art went to make ceramics. The rest is a footnote in both art and cinema history.

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