Lot 57
  • 57

Francis Picabia

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Francis Picabia
  • signed Francis Picabia (lower right)
  • gouache and ink on board
  • 105 by 75cm.
  • 41 3/8 by 29 1/2 in.


Galerie Furstenberg, Paris
Galerie Rive Droite, Paris
Jean Larcade, Paris
Galleria Notizie, Turin
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1969


Paris, Galerie Mona-Lisa, 1961
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Francis Picabia. Mezzo secolo di avanguardia, 1974-75, no. 54, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Personnage, with incorrect medium and as dating from circa 1923-26)
Palermo, Accademia di Belle Arti, Disidentico: maschile, femminile e oltre, 1998, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Personnage - Sibyl and as dating from 1923-26)


Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Album Picabia, Turin, 1975, illustrated p. 37
Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Picabia, Milan, 1976, no. 111
William A. Camfield, Francis Picabia. His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, no. 276, illustrated
Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, fig. 631, cat. 424, illustrated in colour p. 327

Catalogue Note

Picabia's works of the mid-1920s, that came to be known as 'Monster' paintings, are characterised by traditional subject matter borrowed from the Old Masters, and transformed by the artist into increasingly complex and distinctly modern compositions. The present work is based on the figure of the the Libyan Sibyl (fig. 1) that forms part of Michelangelo's celebrated fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in which the sense of movement, drama and the contortions of the human body certainly appealed to Picabia's imagination. William A. Camfield wrote about this group of works: 'Picabia's intentions in these direct references to old masters is unknown, but it is unlikely that the paintings were undertaken with an attitude of reverence. To the contrary, he seems to be commenting pungently on both the hallowed Renaissance tradition and the classicizing, tradition-conscious trend of much Western art during the 1920s. The ideal human form of Michelangelo's sibyl was rudely distorted and dematerialized in the filmy, transparent passages of the legs and stomach (W. A. Camfield, op. cit., p. 224).


In their discussions of 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). In Sibyl aux quatre pieds Picabia reduced the original composition to its key elements, and transformed the details of the figure's costume and the surrounding environment to white spots and undulating lines that provide a condensed and witty substitute for Michelangelo's elaborate composition. Furthermore, the subtle modelling and the chiaroscuro of the fresco are here replaced by a bold, resolutely two-dimensional treatment and the freely applied patches of colour against a monochrome background.