Interior designer Tino Zervudachi discusses the totemic appeal of a Gilbert Valentin vase made in the early 1950s
‘I have bought the vase three times — though not this exact one. The first one that I owned had been made into a lamp. A client saw it in my flat and fell in love with it, so I let him buy it from me. Then I found another one that had also been turned into a lamp. I felt it was right that my client should have the pair, so I couldn’t allow myself to keep it. I was slightly bereft — I had given up my lovely vase.
‘Then I came across this one, which was for sale at Christie’s in Paris. It is by Gilbert Valentin, who was a friend of Picasso’s during the time that he was in Vallauris, in the south of France. Valentin and his wife Lilette made all their ceramics there, and were known as les archanges. The signature on the bottom of this piece is accompanied by a little sketch of a winged flask with a halo. Gilbert Valentin did a lot of matt-black, charcoaly pieces.
‘This one was made in the early 1950s. Often they have sharp- coloured glazed bits on them, which to my mind are not all that nice. I like the fact that this vase has none of that; instead there is a rough surface that comes from putting sand into the glaze. The texture and colour make it feel mysterious and magical. It has a tremendous presence, given that it is quite small, and rather invisible because it is black.
‘The vase has a totemic feel, like those Easter Island statues or some ancient piece of Cycladic art. It is in some ways a little spooky. I find the figure on the vase somewhat androgynous. And there is a Mona Lisa quality to that face: is it smiling or not? Or is it asking a question?
‘One has to be quite cold-blooded about the process of buying at auction. I am perhaps a bit too emotional for it. So I often decide what I want to spend, then delegate the business of bidding to someone else. But I bid for this myself online, and I remember how excited I was to get my hands on it, having let two slip through my fingers.
‘I knew I was going to keep it. And actually I prefer this one, because it is just a vase; the lamps, with their shades, were a little like ladies in hats. I never put flowers in it — that might make it look a bit silly. I have had it for eight or nine years now, and the more I think about it, the more attractive it becomes to me.’