Picasso and jewellery

From the drawings he carried out during his youth in Barcelona or Madrid, to the copper engravings during the last years of his life, jewels would occupy a unique place in Pablo Picasso’s pictorial and graphic work. Necklaces, pins, brooches, bracelets and earrings are objects that caught his eye or that he himself imagined and represented in some portraits, where they were integrated as a whole with the subject, sometimes even overshadowing it. Thus, for example, when Nusch Eluard showed up in his studio on the Rue des Grands-Augustins in 1936 wearing golden Schlumberger cherubs, the artist didn’t take long to portray his friend and wouldn’t forget the designer’s brooches. Twenty years later, he made a number of portraits of the art collector and cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein; in one of the nineteen drawings, the facial features completely disappear and make way for the prominence to her imposing necklace; in another, only the bracelets and rings that adorned her hands would remain.

Imagined or reproduced, the jewels reappeared as elements of a Picassian language that from the 1930s would become truly concrete. Picasso then began to give shape to dozens of pieces of surprising diversity for people around him, the existence of which is still quite unknown.

While his first jewel was probably the necklace of painted wood pieces that he made in 1916 for Gabrielle Depeyre, his companion at the time, Picasso’s jewellery production would begin more credibly and intensely in the second half of the 1930s, when he shared his life with the artist Dora Maar. He made different pieces for her from metal mounts or frames that he bought in markets, perhaps in Royan, where the couple lived at the beginning of the Second World War. On these jewels, worthy of an antique shop, he painted, drew and engraved portraits that turned out to be true works of art in miniature.

Picasso also gave Dora Maar a large number of bones, stones and other found objects that the artist engraved or drew on; objects that the photographer immortalised in many images, as he would do at the same time with Guernica. Miniature and marginal sculptures, for Picasso these small works were «a true passion»,[1] as he himself explained to the photographer Brassaï at the beginning of the 1940s. For sure, the artist enjoyed strolling along the beaches of southern France, where he would spend a good part of his summers, and collecting bones, pebbles and objects returned by the sea to give them the shape that these discoveries inspired him to do. This is how eagles, Minotaurs and portraits of all kinds saw the light. Sometimes a few strokes on the stone were enough to make a fish; in others, he would take advantage of the veins of a bone to represent the plumage of a bird. These miniature sculptures which he would give as a present surrounding him often became good-luck charms, around the necks of his recipients. Perhaps the most important jewel of all these was the one he made with the artist Françoise Gilot, his companion in the 1940s. This surprising necklace made with four hands was made up of a pendant representing an owl and various grains and found objects.

Pablo Picasso, Françoise Gilot. Collaret Mussol. Golfe-Juan, 1948. Pedra, metall, os i cordó violeta. Col·lecció particular. Cortesia Galerie Seghers, Oostende
Pablo Picasso, Françoise Gilot. Owl necklace. Golfe-Juan, 1948. Stone, metal, bone and violet cord. Private collection. Galerie Seghers Oostende © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2021

It was also with Françoise Gilot with whom, in the 1940s, Picasso rediscovered pottery in Vallauris. In Suzanne and Georges Ramié’s workshop he carried out a large number of small clay sculptures: heads of fauns, bearded men, female figures and other motifs from the Picassian repertoire, were transformed into pendants and small works to wear around the neck. Fired clay was one of the artist’s favourite materials for creating jewellery, and to do so he explored the many possibilities of ceramics: he played with the shapes that came to life in his hands, and sometimes he would rework them afterwards and decorate them with slips and enamels. At other times he painted and chiselled the fired clay to create coloured portrait pendants.

Picasso’s experiences with jewellery were innumerable and, in parallel to his ceramic creations with the Ramie couple, in 1950 the artist tried out other materials. For the first time, and with the help of his dentist from Vallauris, Picasso made some jewellery with precious metals. During the Wednesday he spent in Roger Chatagner’s laboratory, Picasso created a dozen small original pieces in gold or silver, among which are, to name a few: a Satyr, a Sun (Fig. 2), a portrait of his son Claude and another of his daughter Paloma, a Dove-Woman or an imposing necklace of bones and beads with pendants and a central medallion in the shape of a bull’s head. The choice of gold and silver was probably that of an artist fascinated by the craftsmanship of ancient civilisations, and these jewels were so surprising due to the fact that they associated the refinement of an immortal metal with the simplicity of the motifs; a simplicity, on the other hand, which was recurrent in most of the jewels made by Picasso.

Pablo Picasso. Braçalet d’ivori amb. Dora com a faunessa i el minotaure. 1936-1943. Peça regalada a Dora Maar. Col·lecció particular ©Lot 23, «Derniers souvenirs de Dora Maar», Maison de la Chimie, 27 de maig del 1999
Pablo Picasso. Ivory bracelet with Dora as faun and the minotaur 1936-1943. Piece given to Dora Maar. Private collection ©Lot 23, «Derniers souvenirs de Dora Maar», Maison de la Chimie, 27th May 1999 © Sucessión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2021

His jewels were, like many of his other works, the receptacle of many influences and inspirations, among which was undoubtedly non-Western art, about which the Cahiers d’art magazine published various articles in the 1930s, just when Picasso was making his first pieces. Likewise, before the First World War, Fernande Olivier already underlined his colleague’s interest in those works that he and the avant-garde artists of the time discovered in Paris, especially in the Trocadéro palace, where at the beginning of the 20th century ethnographic collections were exhibited. In his memoirs, Olivier said that «Picasso has become a fanatic; he collects statues, masks and fetishes from all corners of Africa. Hunting for black works has become a real pleasure for him. There are really exciting ones, with their beaded ornaments, necklaces, bracelets or belts.».[2] It is possible that these pieces influenced Picasso in a lasting way: in the 1930s he thought of making gold earrings for Dora Maar, while a few years later he made a glass-covered button necklace for François Gilot. Roland Penrose, biographer of the genius, also alludes to this frenzy of the artists of the young avant-garde for non-Western art when he explains that «ivory bracelets from this same origin adorn the arms of their friends with a touch of exoticism».[3] Picasso would work precisely with ivory, much later on, in one of the bracelets that he gave to Dora Maar, on which he engraved a portrait of the photographer as a female faun and a Minotaur.

Pablo Picasso. Penjoll Sol. c. 1950. Plata amb aliatge de plom. Peça única realitzada amb la col·laboració de Roger Chatagner © Maurice AeschimannPablo Picasso. Sun pendant. c. 1950. Silver with lead alloy. Unique piece made with the collaboration of Roger Chatagner ©Maurice Aeschimann © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2021


However, more than being a unique or singular influence, what should undoubtedly be seen in these jewels is a synthesis of Picassian inspirations. Picasso created them for the people who marked his life, and these, in return, received these objects that bear the imprint of the topics and concerns close to the artist. All these objects of such intimate symbolism have one thing in common – the fact that they have been created for people close to him, or have been given to such people, and all of them are the protagonists of a double story: the story of Picasso and those to whom it was destined, and the history of their artistic creation. Thus, they are probably, in the words of Brassaï, «the vestiges of I don’t know which Picassian civilisation». [4]


Manon Lecaplain

Curator of the exhibition Picasso and the artist’s jewels



[1] Brassaï, Conversations avec Picasso. París, Gallimard, 1964, p. 93.

[2] Fernande Olivier, Souvenirs intimes : écrits pour Picasso. París, Calmann-Lévy, 1988, p. 240.

[3] Roland Penrose, Picasso. París, Flammarion, 1982, p. 190.

[4] Brassaï, Conversations avec Picasso. París, Gallimard, 1964, p. 237.




  • Ello
    June 23, 2021

    ¡Felicidades por el post, me encantó! Gracias.

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