‘Amazing’ Picasso football sculpture unveiled at Manchester’s National Football Museum

By Paddy von Behr

Pablo Picasso’s ‘Footballeur’ sculpture was today unveiled as the latest addition to the memorabilia collection in Manchester’s National Football Museum.

Standing at just 11 inches tall, the ceramic piece is an unusual one, as it highlights the great artist’s little-known affiliation with football.

Kevin Moore, director at the venue in the Urbis Building, was thrilled to receive a call on the museum’s opening night in July offering an original Picasso work.

“It’s an amazing piece,” he said.

“It’s the only work that Picasso did in ceramic on football, so a wonderful new addition to our collection.

“To have a Picasso is just extraordinary and I think it is absolutely right that it’s here because of that connection to the game.

“The work is reflecting on the movement and beauty of the game – in Pele’s words it’s ‘the beautiful game’ and Picasso has clearly picked up on that.

“I think part of football’s attraction for Picasso was the movement and aesthetic of the game.”

The Spanish artist’s passion for bull-fighting and boxing are widely known, but his interest in football, and especially Barcelona, is less so.

Dr Mike O’Mahony, history of art professor at Bristol University, observed the ‘dance-like exuberance’ of the sculpture, which is typical of Picasso’s ceramic work.

He also believes the artist’s inspiration for the piece was Barcelona’s defeat in the 1961 European Cup final.

“Football is something that came later for him and I think one of the significances of this particular work relates to 1961,” he said.

“That year Barcelona, which is where Picasso spent most of his formative years, reached the European Cup final for the first time.

“I have no doubt he watched it on television or in newsreels and, within four days of that final, which Barcelona sadly lost 3-2 to Benfica, he produced a lithograph called Football Players.

“I think that, and this sculpture, are very much a reaction to that moment – it is Picasso enjoying sport and the association with Barcelona.”

The sculpture was bought earlier this year by a private collector at a high-profile auction of Picasso’s ceramics.

Graham Budd, a specialist sports memorabilia auctioneer and the owner’s agent, was instrumental in bringing the piece to the National Football Museum.

“It’s in a wonderful place where everybody can come and see it,” he said.

“I think it’s great that it’s free admission here and it will give everybody an opportunity of seeing an original Picasso in the context of football.

“I think it’s prestigious – it’s something associated with history and, in many people’s opinion, the greatest artist in history.

“It’s a simple design, but you just get the sense of movement and action and it’s virtually the first thing you see when you arrive so I think it’s terrific what they’ve done.”

‘Footballeur’ will be displayed on the first floor of the museum for 12 months, alongside numerous other valuable mementos from the football world.

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