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Rare 'Visage Noir' service highlights Christie's first online-only Picasso Ceramics sale
Pablo Picasso, Service visage noir (A.R. 35-47). Conceived in 1948 and executed in an edition of 100. Estimate: £40,000-70,000. Photo: Christie\s Images Ltd. 2013.

LONDON.- Christie’s will launch their first-ever online-only auction of Picasso Ceramics on 15 October 2013, featuring a complete set of 13 plates from the Service Visage Noir, an extremely rare and early set of Picasso plates (estimate: £40,000 – 70,000, illustrated above). Another set of the exquisite service, produced in 1948, was given to Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan by the town of Vallauris on the French Riviera as a wedding gift in 1949. The Service Visage Noir is one of the first ceramic editions Picasso created in 1948. Executed in an edition of only 100 sets, it is rarely seen as a complete service and the one presented for sale is itself one of the earliest examples of the edition. The auction as a whole will comprise around 80 lots and will run for two weeks with bidding open from 15 – 29 October 2013. A selection of the works will be on view at 45 Park Lane from 1 – 20 October and the sale will be on view at Christie’s King Street from 22 – 29 October.

Michelle McMullan and Keith Gill, Co-Heads of Sale, commented: “Picasso ceramics continue to attract significant interest from buyers across the world. Picasso always intended his ceramics to be accessible, and the online format of this sale will provide an opportunity for a greater audience to enjoy these playful and beautiful objects. The Service Visage Noir, one of the rarest lots in the sale, is likely to generate a great deal of interest, as there were only 100 editions ever produced and very few sets remain intact having been split and sold separately during the 80s and 90s. The quality and colouring of the decoration and the stamps on this particular set show it to be one of the earliest in the edition and it has been in a private collection for more than 20 years. The Rita Hayworth connection is an example of how this period in Picasso’s life and work became synonymous with the fame, fortune and the artistic creativity of the golden age of Hollywood. This sale follows exceptional results in our recent Impressionist & Modern Art and Picasso Ceramics sales. With the market for Picasso ceramics continually strengthening, we anticipate interest in this sale from all corners of the globe.”

In 1949, Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan held one of the most lavish weddings even seen on the French Riviera at the Chateau de l’Horizon, near Vallauris. In addition to the consumption of hundreds of bottles of champagne and large quantities of caviar, the swimming pool was reputedly infused with perfume. It was at this wedding that the couple was presented with a complete set of the Service Visage Noir as a gift from the town of Vallauris.

The early Service Visage Noir being offered for sale at Christie’s is remarkable for the quality of its material, which is a consistent shade of deep green. The process of firing in a wood furnace persisted until 1953 and the effects were often less coherent, due to the irregularity of the process. Picasso decorated the service with the mischievous and playful motif of fauns’ heads, echoing the artist’s sense of humour and ‘joie de vivre’.

During the late 1940s Picasso settled in Vallauris, where he developed his passion for ceramics, soon becoming one of the most prolific ceramicists of the 20th Century. Picasso’s presence had a significant impact on the glamour of the French Riviera. In the 1940s and 50s it was the most popular destination for the great and the good, including the young beauty Brigitte Bardot who chose the town of Vallauris for reasons grounded in his artistic development. Following earlier trips to the Riviera, where he was inspired by the clarity of the light and the bright Mediterranean colours, the artist visited Vallauris for the annual pottery exhibition in 1946. His fascination with the work of local ceramicists Suzanne and Georges Ramie led to a long and fruitful collaboration spanning the next 25 years.

This online-only sale follows the new world record for a ceramic by Pablo Picasso set at Christie’s with Grand vase aux femmes voilées achieving £980,275 in the June 2013 Impressionist & Modern Art sale, as well as June’s immensely successful Picasso Ceramics sale which was 100 per cent sold. Pioneered by Christie’s historic auction of the Madoura collection of Picasso ceramics in 2012, the online-only format of this sale offers international buyers another platform to engage with these accessible and sought-after works by Picasso.

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