Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881 – 1973) was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and theatre designer who spent most of his adult life in France. Picasso is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore.
From the drawings he carried out during his youth in Spain, 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.
Francois Hugo, great-grandson of the famous writer Victor Hugo, found his vocation in designing buttons for Coco Chanel and Christian Dior in the 1940s. His brother and sister-in-law, Jean and Valentine Hugo, were close friends of Picasso, Cocteau, Diaghilev, the Surrealists and many avant-garde artists in Paris, and Francois became part of their Salon gatherings. Picasso asked for his collaboration on the design and production of silver plates and later designs for gold jewellery, too.
In 1972, François’ son Pierre joined the goldsmith workshop and added more names to his catalogue of designers, still specialising in limited hand-made editions. Poisson, Médaillon ovale, Trèfle, and Masque, Oiseau à la tête penchée by Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst are excellent examples of the collaboration between these most iconic of twentieth century artists and goldsmiths.
Picasso and François Hugo began collaborating with large plates which were part of Picasso’s private collection. Between 1956 and 1967, Picasso gave François different kinds of objects – differential in conception and style – to have them realised in silver and gold. Including sculpture, ceramics, and jewellery, the collaboration highlighted the variety of art that intrigued Picasso at the time.
For a very long time, the existence of these gold medallions were virtually unknown, as Picasso had initially made these pieces with the intention of keeping them for himself and not for selling them to the public. However, after years of collaboration, François Hugo gained the permission to commercialise the plates and to recreate a smaller version in the form of 23kt gold medallions. The medallions echo the imagery of the plates and were made in an edition of 20, plus two artist’s proofs. Each medallion has a reference number issued by the Atelier Hugo.