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9. Folks arts and private mithologies

In 1946, Picasso and Françoise Gilot visited the Madoura pottery at Vallauris, and so began Picasso's intense affair with ceramics. He drew inspiration from the ancient Greek and Asian pottery exhibited at the Louvre. The artist reincarnated himself in the form of fauns, nymphs, fish, satyrs and bulls. 

“Ceramics works like printmaking. The firing is the printing process. It’s only then that you discover what you have actually made. When you receive the finished print, you are no longer the same person who etched the plate. You’ve changed. You have to go back to the printing plate. But with ceramics, there’s no going back.”
Translated from: Pierre Daix. Le nouveau dictionnaire Picasso, 2012, p. 168

Head of a Faun

Vallauris, 15 March 1948 | Oblong plate (plat rectangulaire): white earthenware, painted with slips and oxides, partially glazed, 32 x 38 cm 
Museo Picasso Málaga. Gift of Christine Ruiz-Picasso
© Museo Picasso Málaga. Photo: Rafael Lobato © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017

Read about Head of a Faun

In 1946 Picasso discovered the existence of the Madoura ceramic workshops in Vallauris, which had recently been relaunched by Georges and Suzanne Ramié. On his first visit he made various different trials, returning the following year completely obsessed with this new technique. From the outset the artist’s ceramics would follow a path parallel to that of his image of the faun, a mythological creature from classical antiquity that has been reinterpreted in every subsequent period in art. Picasso’s interest in this motif increased when in February 1948 he illustrated two stories about fauns and centaurs by his friend Ramón Reventós, Le centaure picador and Le crepuscule d’un faune. Head of a Faun dates from the following month and is part of the first group of ceramics made on conventional plates, which merely functioned as supports during this initial phase.

Picasso made most use of plates of this type between 1947 and 1948 after which he only made some sporadic use of them in 1953 and 1955. Between January and March 1948 he produced various fauns’ faces of similar morphology, making use of the form of the plate to construct the face. The result is a subtle anticipation of Picasso’s classic processes of metamorphosing in which he made use of the pre-existing forms of an object to obtain a specific iconography. The eyes, nose and mouth are created from minimal incisions in the white clay while the neck is formed from the simple application of a pair of lines in the lower part.

The image of the faun with closed eyes would be repeated not just in ceramics but also in lithographs of this period in which it is seen playing a diaula. As is often the case in his work, Picasso alternated different techniques and during that same month Mourlot sent him several zinc plates with which to undertake the illustration of Pierre Reverdy’s Le chant des morts. Picasso would execute the 121 lithographs for this book on the second floor of the Madoura workshop where the ceramics were dried. Ceramic and lithography: two techniques that not only shared a single space of creation but also occupied all Picasso’s attentions in early 1948. 

Text: Eduard Vallés