France // The Côte d’Azur //


Pottery and Picasso are the attractions of Vallauris, an otherwise unremarkable town in the hills above Golfe-Juan, 6km northeast of Cannes. It was here that Picasso first began to use clay, thereby reviving the town’s traditional craft. Today the main street, avenue Georges-Clemenceau, sells nothing but pottery, much of it garish bowls or figurines that could feature in souvenir shops anywhere. The bronze statue of Man with a Sheep, the artist’s gift to the town, stands in the main square, place Paul Isnard, beside the church and castle.

In 1952, Picasso was asked to decorate the deconsecrated early medieval chapel in the castle courtyard; his subject was war and peace. The space, now the Musee National Picasso, is tiny, with the architectural simplicity of an air-raid shelter, and at first it’s easy to be unimpressed by the painted panels covering the vault – as many critics still are – since the work looks mucky and slapdash, with paint-runs on the plywood panel surface. But stay a while and the passion of this violently drawn display of pacifism slowly emerges. The ticket also gives admission to the Musée de la Céramique in the castle itself, which exhibits Picasso’s and other ceramics and the Musee Magnelli, which exhibits works by the Florentine painter Alberto Magnelli, a contemporary of Picasso.

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