- Francis Picabia
- signed Francis Picabia (lower left)
- oil on board
Private Collection, Auvergne (by descent from the above in 1967)
Sale: Hôtel des Ventes de Clermont-Ferrand, Clermont-Ferrand, 13th June 2015, lot 90
Purchased at the above by the present owner
However, more recent scholarship has re-evaluated these paintings. From the very beginning of his Dadaist work, Picabia had positively embraced imitation and appropriation – and the less ‘appropriate’ the better. In the photo-paintings he continued this use of source material, replicating photographs from magazines like Paris Sex Appeal as well posters and postcards; it was not uncommon for him to combine elements from multiple sources in a single image, thus creating a sort of painterly collage or photo-montage. It was pop art before ‘Pop’ had been born.
The precise source of Espagnole is unknown, although in terms of her posture and state of deshabille she bears a strong resemblance to the women sometimes depicted on bullfighting or flamenco posters (fig. 1). Picabia was living at the time in Golfe-Juan, only a few miles from where Picasso so famously watched the corrida at Vallauris; it is impossible not to suspect that Picabia is alluding both to Picasso’s early portraits of Olga a la española and more generally to his preoccupation with the imagery of the toreo.
There is much to suggest that these works are another Picabian joke at the art establishment’s expense, but they nonetheless create an unease in the viewer; the best of the photo-paintings seem too genuine to be satirical, the seductive beauty of the woman in Espagnole belies subversion. As Lawrence Alloway wrote, these paintings combine ‘the odd compound of imitation and parody, of accepting influences and caricaturing them’, going on to add, ‘As so often in Picabia, it is hard to decide whether we are looking at a botched imitation, a brutal parody, or a subtle imagination which operates in a personal territory between loyal copying and ironic parody’ (L. Alloway, ‘London Letter’, in Art International, III, no. 9, Zurich, 1959, p. 24).