It may not correspond to the Chinese calendar,
but for Picasso, 1952 was the year of the goat. Two years earlier,
he had drawn a few goat’s skulls, painted a wonderful reclining
goat (entitled, simply, Goat, PP50-002) which now rests
at the Musée Picasso, and also fashioned his charming, large
bronze sculpture, the She-Goat, of which there are two
casts, one at the Musée Picasso Paris and the other at the
MOMA. But in 1952, Picasso’s pet Esmeralda must have caught
his eye in full force, because he created a number of astounding
portraits of her
in several media that year, including a number of paintings, a
few incredible prints (a lovely but tiny etching, Bloch 697, serves
more or less as a reprise of the bronze, and two wonderful but
somewhat macabre aquatints of a post mortem goat head, Bloch 691
and some ceramics, including this stunning masterpiece.
Let’s give a name to the artistic style of this ceramic:
Geometric. Since the time of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,
in which Picasso carved space as if with a knife, with a result
more akin to a misshapen geode than any habitable room we’ve
ever entered, numerous novel iterations of this signature style
formed the substrate of many of his best works. Though the term
is often applied to these instances, I rather think it is misapplied.
In my opinion, the term Cubism is best left to the work that followed
hot on the heels of Les Demoiselles and ended with Synthetic
Cubism in the ‘teens. The fragmentation of design in that
oeuvre is quite different than the many new styles that followed
certainly could be said that the later styles borrowed from it
and built upon it.
This goat ceramic, and the closely related painting of the same
year, Crâne de Chèvre, Bouteille et Bougie (at the
Tate Modern; see below) are exemplars of the Geometric style. Picasso
of this ceramic in wet clay. He then had the
and the hardened designed served as a mold for the finished product.
Thus, the plate shows the design of the goat in relief, raised
lines in a pattern typical of the Geometric style. (Geometrism?)
The plates were then painted and glazed variously, and the two
finest examples by far, neither of which are included in the Ramie
catalogue raisonné, are exhibited here. Descriptively, one
could call them the black-and-white goat on a partly cloudy day,
and the black goat on a starry night.
Of all of the several variants of this editioned ceramic (they
vary in the way they were painted and in the extent to which they
were glazed), the goat in the starry night shows off Picasso’s
geometric carving the best, because colored paint does not distract
from the geometric relief, and the matt glaze of the goat accentuates
the relief. The starry night variant also appears to be a very
rare—a couple of other experts whom I have consulted have
also never seen it elsewhere, apart from one sighting in the distant
past at the Picasso Museum in Antibes.
The black-and-white goat variant is the next best at accentuating
the relief pattern and, because of its lovely coloration—a
partly white face and white clouds on a light bluish-gray sky—has
a lighter, happier feel. All these goats, however, bear a distinct
smile, which reliably evokes a corresponding one in the viewer.
We’ve named this goat Esmeralda, after Picasso’s eponymous
pet. Due to Esmeralda’s happy face, the brilliant Geometrism
with which Picasso carved her, the lovely ways in which she has
been painted and glazed, and her substantial, life-like size—this
plate is pleasingly massive—this is the best of Picasso’s
editioned ceramics, at least in my wife’s and my opinion
(and we don’t always agree!). We also hold the five female
portraits transferred from linoleum cuts to clay (especially the
large one, Ramie number 518, but also Ramie 520-523), at the same
level of achievement, but take the comparison no further, since
goats and women are like apples and oranges.