37

Details & Cataloguing

Bowie/Collector – Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction

|
London

Francis Picabia
1879 - 1953
MENDICA
signed and titled 
oil on canvas
161.2 by 130cm.; 63½ by 51 1/8 in.
Executed in 1929-30 and reworked in the mid-1930s.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Picabia.

Provenance

P.-Ch. Pomaret, Nice (by 1962)
Dominique Kanga, Paris & Ivory Coast 
Their sale, Sotheby’s London, 30th March 1988, lot 164, where acquired by David Bowie

Exhibited

Possibly Paris, Léonce Rosenberg, Francis Picabia, Trente ans de peinture, 1930, cat. no.64 (ex. cat.);
Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Francis Picabia, 1983, cat. no.46, illustrated (image inverted);
Takanawa, The Museum of Modern Art & Tokyo, The Seibu Museum of Art, Francis Picabia, 1984, cat. no.48, illustrated (as dating from 1930);
Madrid, Salas Pablo Ruiz Picasso & Barcelona, Fundació Caixa de Pensions, Francis Picabia. Exposició antològica, 1985, cat. no.104, illustrated (as dating from 1930 and with incorrect measurements);
Nimes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Exposition Francis Picabia, 1986, cat. no.88, illustrated (as dating from 1931 and with incorrect measurements).

Literature

Maria Luïsa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, no.589, illustrated fig.779 (as dating from 1931 and with incorrect measurements);
Christian Derouet (ed.), ‘ Francis Picabia, Lettres à Léonce Rosenberg 1929-1940’, in Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, Hors-Série/Archives, Paris, 2000, mentioned pp. 37, 40, 44, 60 & 137.

Catalogue Note

Picabia’s Mendica belongs to the artist’s celebrated series of Transparences. These images, simultaneously transparent and opaque, were manipulated by Picabia in scale and orientation in such a way as to create a seemingly impenetrable allegory with the characteristics of a dream or a mystic vision. Following his experimentation with Dadaism and abstraction, in the 1910s and 1920s Picabia turned away from the aesthetic of shock towards a kind of ‘renaissance’, creating figurative images underpinned by a Classical beauty. The motivation for this change of direction is, however, not entirely known, as he did not follow the general trend of the rappel à l’ordre, which influenced much of the art produced in the 1920s. His intention was probably fuelled by his Dadaist tendencies to rejoice in the illogical and to subvert the traditionally accepted notions in art. In discussing Picabia’s take on Old Masters, critics have often compared his paintings to those of Pablo Picasso, characterising Picabia as his follower. Maria Lluïsa Borràs, however, argued that it was Picabia who pioneered this style: ‘Picabia was in fact anticipating by over fifteen years the Picasso who was to take as his theme works by Cranach, Altdorfer, Poussin and Courbet – or the Picasso of the fifties who, before the adoring eyes of the specialists, was to transform the works of El Greco, Delacroix, Velázquez and even Manet in ways not fundamentally different from that used by Picabia in the twenties’ (M. L. Borràs, op. cit., p.292).

As well as looking to the painters of classical antiquity or the Italian Renaissance, it is clear that Picabia was also drawing inspiration from a myriad of contemporary sources including Freudian psychoanalysis and modern photographic techniques. William A. Camfield wrote about the genesis of this style: ‘Picabia’s interest in the concept and techniques of transparency was not a sudden development. Ultimately it derived from preoccupations with simultaneity during the epoch of Cubism and Orphism; more recently he had experimented with simultaneity/transparency in the film Entr’acte and in a number of the monster paintings of ca. 1927. But in 1928 his work evolved into the early mature paintings of a type which became known as “the transparencies” – a style so named for its multiple layers of transparent images, although it was also characterized by pervasive moods of wistfulness and melancholy, and by extensive reference to art of the past’ (W. A. Camfield, Francis Picabia, Princeton, 1979, p.229).

Despite the wealth of artistic, cultural and natural references, the meanings of the transparencies remain deliberately obscure and ambiguous, and their power lies in their evocative beauty and elegance of execution. Much of the allure of these works is in the richness and intricacy of the composition; whilst Picabia places emphasis on the mesmerising figure of the man that dominates the work, closer inspection reveals that he is surrounded by other figures as well as a number of cryptic and arcane motifs. Bestowing this central figure with the title ‘Mendica’ – a typically Picabian pseudo-Latinate name which derives from the proper term for a mendicant – Picabia both enhances the Classical connection and adds to the mysteries of the work, as the powerfully built man appears closer to an oneiric Pan-like or Orphean figure than the beggar of classical tradition. An oblique reference to Orpheus seems particularly possible given that the seated position and frontal posture of the man is typical of classical iconography relating to the mythical musician and poet, but it is also hard to believe that Picabia did not have Picasso’s 1923 work La Flûte de Pan (Musée National Picasso, Paris) in mind when he conceived this composition. Intriguingly, ‘Mendica’ is also a name given to a number of species of moth and Picabia’s allusion to this alternative meaning is characteristic of the way in which the artist combined references to the natural world with classical imagery in this series. These double meanings also contribute to the enigmatic quality of the Transparences, which remain among Picabia’s most complex and cryptic works. As Camfield explains: ‘Picabia describes his transparencies as spaces where he might express of himself “the resemblance of my interior desires”, as paintings “where all my instincts may have a free course”. But insofar as is known, he shared not one word of more specific explanation about his intentions, visual sources or titles with anyone […]. Accordingly, never was he more successful in painting for himself than in these works – transparent perhaps in form but veiled in content’ (ibid., pp.233-234).

Bowie/Collector – Part I: Modern and Contemporary Art, Evening Auction

|
London