Vallauris: Pots, Paintings and Picasso

The moment you see the welcoming sign to Vallauris, 15 minutes’ drive from Antibes, you know that this place will have the stamp or brushstroke of the 20th-century’s best-known artist.  From the mid-1940s Picasso developed an interest, even passion, in extending his ceramic skills and found a warm welcome in Vallauris, a village with a long, though indefinite, history of potters and ceramicists.

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Hopping off the ‘bus, I was confronted by a little ionic temple oddly framed in a street of nondescript buildings.  It had been constructed in 1900 by Clement Massier in honour of his daughter.  The pediment was crumbling.  I couldn’t help noticing that with a kind of romantic glee.

Avenue Georges Clemenceau is the main street through the village, remarkably unremarkable.  One shop displays a large photograph of Picasso having a haircut in a local salon.  There are a few pottery and ceramic shops with wares that did not really appeal to me.  In a small gallery shop I met an artist whose work, interesting and imaginative, was on display.  I was given access to an inner sanctum where the proprietor presided over a collection of art for sale – lithographs by Dali, Chagall and César, amongst others.  The one Dali was going for a mere €2,600 (close to R30,000).

I wandered up to the baroque cathedral with its mellow, caramel-coloured façade dominating the place where there is a monument to the fallen in the two world wars.  The figure in the monument holds his own head in anguish as a benign angel of death supports him.  The flowers and wreathes on the pedestal were fresh.

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In a building rather grandly titled Le Chateau, I visited the museum that houses ceramics that Picasso fashioned from the mid-1940s to the late-1960s.  It is an experience that refreshes – the bright colours, the humour and the playfulness.  Comic faces, owls, scenes from bullfights, fish, on plates and pots of intriguing design.  It was his enthusiasm, his creativity and promotion of the medium that brought about what has been called L’âge d’or de Vallauris (the golden age of Vallauris).  He joined a momentum that had begun in the 1930s with potters, ceramicists and sculptors of note.

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Something of this momentum was seen on the ground floor where several contemporary ceramicist-sculptors were exhibiting their work, often strange and startling.  It left me with an ache for this creative climate to manifest to a greater degree where I come from.

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As always with travel, there comes the surprise. On the upper floor was an exhibition by Alberto Magnelli (1888-1971), an abstract painter I had never heard of.  I was swept by the gratifying juxtapositions, strong forms and august colours. Each work is memorable.   It was difficult to tear myself away.

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As I left the museum, I saw, on a wall above the parking area, a large close-up of two passionate eyes  – the citoyen d’honneur of Vallauris burning his gaze into history.

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Will van der Walt ©

Mercredi  12 Decembere  2012

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Image sources:  Massier temple, monument figure, Picasso eyes –  Will

Ceramic faces – nmao.go.jp

Ceramic pot – artnet.tumblr.com

Magnelli –  Editions S.M.D.

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