- Francis Picabia
- FEMME SUR LA PLAGE
- signed Francis Picabia (lower right)
- ripolin and oil on board
- 72.8 by 100cm.
- 28 5/8 by 39 3/8 in.
De Gavardi Collection, Paris
Galleria Notizie, Turin
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1969
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Francis Picabia. Mezzo secolo di avanguardia, 1974-75, no. 51, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1923-26)
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Picabia, Milan, 1976, no. 120
Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, fig. 647, cat. 452, illustrated in colour p. 331
Femme sur la plage belongs to a series of works Picabia executed between 1924 and 1927 known as the 'Monster' paintings. These compositions treat traditional subject matter, either images inspired by Old Master paintings, or conventional themes such as female figures or couples (fig. 1), often based on people the artist came in contact with. During this time Picabia often used ripolin, a household paint characterised by a shiny, brilliant quality, and rendered his subjects in unexpected colour combinations. Furthermore, he deliberately distorted the figures' forms to a disquieting effect. Features become mask-like, with pointed noses and an emphasis on large almond-shaped eyes frequently multiplied on the face. This replication of eyes and the superimposition of images were to become central features of Picabia's Transparences of the period that followed.
Although the subject of the present work has not been identified as taken from any particular source, it certainly displays the same style and pictorial vocabulary as, for example, Picabia's Les Trois Grâces (fig. 2), based on a painting by Rubens. Other works from this period take their themes, for example, from Dürer, Titian and Michelangelo. Picabia's intention in seeking inspiration from Old Masters is, however, not entirely known, as Picabia did not follow the general trend of rappel à l'ordre, which influenced much of the art produced in the 1920s, following the destruction of World War I. His intent was probably fuelled by his Dadaist tendencies to rejoice in the illogical and to subvert the traditionally accepted notions in art. During this time Picabia was one of the leading members of the Dada group, one of the most revolutionary movements in twentieth century art that fundamentally challenged the existing art canon.
In the present work, the figure on the beach is rendered in brilliant, strong colours applied with a great sense of energy. After his experimentations with various media and techniques that characterised his Dada years, the mid-1920s marked Picabia's renewed interest in painting. The simplified signs, such as the circles, crosses and hatching in the present work, can be seen as a legacy of his Dada style. The abstract, geometric forms and lines painted in black and white are used to signify various elements of the background, such as the sand on the beach, the clouds and the ripples in the water. The zig-zag lines behind the figure are a witty indication of the reflection on the surface of the water, that would have been elaborately painted by the Old Masters or Impressionists before him. By transforming these subjects according to his own, unorthodox vision, Picabia created images resonating with energy and creative power.