Painting, sculpture, printmaking, pottery, decoration and even poetry… there were few artistic practices that Pablo Picasso did not turn his hand to. In the spring of 2020, the Museu Picasso Barcelona will be shining a spotlight for the first time on one of his least known bodies of work in an exhibition on artist’s jewellery.
From the necklaces made of shells for Dora Maar on the beaches of Juan-les-Pins in 1937 to the pieces of veritable precious metal work in the 1960s and the ceramic pieces fashioned in the Madoura pottery, jewellery was for Picasso yet another field of play that offered a new set of possibilities. Dora Maar was one of his first muses in this realm and the sun necklace made shortly after they met was the forerunner of the shell necklaces created in the summer. Their relationship inspired him again in the late 1930s to create pendants, brooches, medallions and rings featuring the portrait of the Surrealist photographer. These objects, in all likelihood purchased, were subsequently modified by Picasso, who added to them a drawn or engraved motif and turned them into true works of art on a small scale. Some of these pieces of jewellery re-emerged into the public light when they were auctioned following Dora Maar’s death in 1998. Until then, they had remained part of her personal collection as proof of Picasso’s passion for her and personal testimony of his genius.
A few years later, the Spanish artist was once again inspired by love to create jewellery and, in the late 1940s, Françoise Gilot was to be seen strolling along the beaches of Golfe-Juan or through the gardens of Vallauris wearing striking ceramic necklaces. This was the time of Madoura, the pottery owned by the married couple Georges and Suzanne Ramié, from which emerged not only thousands of matching ceramic plates and vases, but also a number of terracotta medallions. Later on, Picasso gave free rein to his imagination with Jacqueline, his second wife, for whom he made a large amount of jewellery. During those self-same years, the artist used some of his plates produced at the Madoura pottery to produce new pieces bearing his favourite motifs – bull’s heads, suns and other masks – made using fine materials. This move from clay to gold was no chance decision but the result of his meeting with the goldsmith François Hugo in the mid-1950s. It was not long before Hugo made his home in Aix-en-Provence. Over the course of nearly 20 years, he made precious metal items based on drawings and vases. This partnership proved fruitful, as Max Ernst, André Derain, Jean Cocteau, Jean Lurçat and Jean Arp soon began to work with the craftsman.
The objects made by Hugo using models provided by Picasso followed the artist’s repertoire – bulls, fish and other animals – with his consent. But Picasso’s forays into the realm of precious metal work did not stop there, as we know that, in the early 1950s, he created around ten small precious metal items with his dentist in Vallauris, Roger Chataignier. It is likely that this was the first time the painter had worked with silver and gold, involving himself in the entire casting process, from which emerged, among other pieces, a pendant of a faun that he gave to Louise Leiris, as well as a gold necklace consisting of a number of pendants hanging from a chain made of bone and beads. Like a number of other pieces Picasso made, this necklace is permeated with his usual artistic interests, as the main piece is decorated with the figure of a bull. In the case of Picasso, and more so perhaps than of any other artist, jewellery was the most personal way he had of expressing himself.
These objects, normally given to the people closest to him, were coveted like treasures that he refused to produce in large quantities or even to exhibit. It was not until the late 1960s that a series intended for sale saw the light of day. For the artist, these items were undoubtedly more than just simple ornaments. Jewellery has always been endowed with a remarkable expressive potential, in some instances as a talisman, in others an amulet. An item of jewellery is imbued with this magic of intimacy.
Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque were not the only ones to receive these miniature sculptures, as Picasso often gave them to people in his close circle, his children or friends. Items of jewellery made for Claude, Paloma, Maya and even Sonia Mossey and Angela Rosengart can be seen in photographs taken by Jean Nocenti, Dora Maar, Robert Capa, André Villers and Edward Quinn. It is no coincidence that when Picasso drew, painted or sculpted his friends and family, he would adorn them with pieces of jewellery that he had made for them. The circle is closed from the making of the object to its transposition onto paper. Alongside these portable treasures, the exhibition will be presenting paintings, drawings and photographs that feature them.
In addition, this exhibition addresses the key problem connected with Picasso’s relationship with the decorative arts, which is to do with the many works by him still to be discovered in tapestry, precious metal work, glass and even metallurgy, as well as his engravings in concrete, such as those on the headquarters of the Architects’ Association of Catalonia (Col·legi d’Arquitectes) in Barcelona.
The opening part of this exhibition will also feature works made by his friends and contemporaries during his youth. Special mention must be made of the importance of Barcelona in the creation of jewellery at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Spanish jewellery production by artists such as Francisco Durrio (1868-1940), Manolo Hugué (1872- 1945), Julio González (1876-1942) and Pablo Gargallo (1881-1934), echoed in Picasso’s work, must necessarily be given consideration. Nor can the exhibition ignore Picasso’s personal ties with these four artists. These objects, often confined to a small circle, are private and powerful testimony given by an artist to his era and his own milieu.
The scope of the exhibition will also be expanded to include a selection of works from one of the most important international collections of artist’s jewellery. Extending from Surrealism to contemporary pieces and from André Derain to Niki de Saint-Phalle, Miquel Barceló, Lucio Fontana and Louise Bourgeois, the jewellery collection of Clo Fleiss is exemplary in its diversity and its masterpieces.
Gold, silver, clay, wire, wood, shell, feathers, stones and even fur… these are just some of the materials used to make the creations treasured by this passionate collector. This variety of materials, shapes, sizes and volumes illustrates the creative fever of those artists, who turned into goldsmiths in the blink of an eye. These pieces of jewellery are private works and hence are miniature museums of the artistic consciousness. They are characterised by their exclusivity or their rarity, and the pieces intended and designed for Clo Fleiss reflect the personal character of the items of artist’s jewellery. Their singularity also makes them a notable aspect of their creator’s career, as making jewellery is generally outside of artists’ usual practice, and yet it constitutes an essential element for some of the greatest figures of the last century.
This creative process clearly seduced the artists of the 1930s and later decades, who sought to bring down barriers, to extend limits and to challenge the boundaries of the creative intent and intuition. And whereas Surrealism also played a significant part in the rise of jewellery, extending from the poetic objects of Victor Brauner to those by Salvador Dalí and the unusual spiral earrings by Man Ray, it was above all from the 1950s onwards that jewellery underwent its most important transformations. Geometric abstraction, kinetic art, new realism, Pop art and Minimalism were all movements that changed this intimate art. In the likeness of his macroscopic creations, César makes compressed pendants that turn ordinary objects into the characters in a new mythology, while George Rickey condenses their sculptural lines and imbues his most beautiful pendants with kinetic art.
In their hands, an item of jewellery is not a prestigious or fantasy piece; rather it is a sculptural gem. Calder’s wire sculptures mingle with Meret Oppenheim’s bracelet and, from modelling to collage, the creative prism of the 20th century is illustrated by these miniature sculptures. For the artist, the piece of jewellery is the secret of their imagination, be it a game, an experiment, an expression of love or simple curiosity. In short, it is a portable museum.