Shopping for a Picasso the Rest of Us Can Afford

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Jaime Reina / AFP / Getty Images

A woman looks at Pablo Ruiz Picasso's Ceramics at the Modern and Comtemporary Art Museum "Es Baluard" in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, December 2, 2004.

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Le Monde.

Did you know that you can buy a Picasso for less than 1000 euros? Of course not one of his great paintings, or even one of his very small drawings, but his ceramics come in at more or less this price.

Picasso discovered ceramics in 1946 when he went to an exhibition in Vallauris, a town in southeastern France. He was then introduced to a couple of potters, Suzanne and Georges Ramié — and he was on his way.

The Ramiés, who founded the Madoura Pottery workshop, helped Picasso discover a whole new world. The Spaniard made his first pieces of pottery in 1947. Very quickly, he became fascinated by the clay, by the way potters tilled and fired it. At the beginning, he contended himself with imagining plates, dishes and utilitarian jugs. He even turned out a set of fish plates.

But he finally abandoned this project to make decorative pieces instead. The idea, however, was always the same: making creative pieces of art available for a wider public. At the time, those ceramics were sold in shops or galleries at very reasonable prices, and were bought by middle-class clients.

"Some ceramics still reappear like this. They come directly from their first buyers because they have stayed in those families for all those years," explains Emmanuel Eyraud, an expert in 20th century decorative arts. These small bowls or simple jugs — 500 copies of them still exist — are worth between 500 and 1500 euros. "But the prices rise quickly, according to the quality of the decorations on the piece, according to its size or according to the number of copies made," Eyraud adds.

The simplest standard models which count 250 copies are worth between 2000 and 3000 euros, whereas the most original ones are worth 8000 euros. Picasso took an unfailing interest in ceramics until he died in 1973. He created thousands of different pieces. "He really took an active role in launching pottery in the 1950s and many potters were inspired by his work," Eyraud says.

Picasso made several thousand models, but many were never reproduced. Why? Either because they only represented an early stage of his work, a first attempt, or because the initial idea was to create something unique. In the latter case, these unique ceramics are as expensive and as coveted by art lovers as some of the Spanish master's paintings.

Priced Out of the Market

This summer, art lovers can admire or buy Picasso's pictorial works in Monaco. Opera Gallery, a leading network of eleven contemporary art galleries worldwide, has been organizing an exceptional exhibition/auction of 35 oil paintings and drawings by Picasso until August 27, 2011.

They were all produced between 1905 and 1968, in other words almost from the beginning to the end of his artistic career. "More than a year was needed to gather this collection," says Gilles Dyan, director of Opera Gallery. "This collection is composed of pieces from private collections or from the artist's family. There are also some acquisitions made by the Opera Gallery itself, from merchants or auctions," he adds.

Those masterpieces cost a fortune: the cheapest drawing is worth 150,000 euros whereas the most valuable painting comes in at 5 million euros. Gilles Dyan is nonetheless sure that people will buy them anyway: "Picasso is one of the art market's blue chips. Selling Picasso at auction is a safe bet. There are potential buyers all around the world. Besides, what makes him different from other masters is that many of his works circulate, which allows future transactions to occur."

But how can we explain such wide fascination with Picasso? In 2009, Picasso and the Masters exhibition at the Grand Palais — the Parisian exhibition hall and museum — proved it once again, breaking attendance records. "Picasso is simply the 20th century artist. There are at least seven or eight different stages in his work," Gilles Dyan says. "He knew how to change his style as years went by, he knew how to question his own work. Even the people who don't know anything about art are moved by his creations."

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