Painted in 1929, Artemis is a remarkable example of the iconic Transparences series painted by Picabia at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s. Inspired by the process of superposing different motifs and images, Picabia made his first Transparences in 1927 and 1928 which were exhibited in September 1928 in the Galerie Théophile Briant in Paris. Following the eccentric works of the Dada years, this new cycle inaugurated a new pictorial thought, more structured, more poetic, drawing its sources and influences from the aesthetic canons of the Italian Renaissance and Greco-Roman antiquity but also in the new optical techniques of cinema (in particular that of stereoscopic vision).
Intellectually complex works, Transparences met with immediate success as much with collectors as with the Surrealist circle which appreciated the different levels of interpretation and the omnipresence of dream and the unconscious in these compositions. Marcel Duchamp praised this new cycle in Picabia's work: "He dedicates himself to the study of transparency in painting. Through the juxtaposition of transparent and coloured forms, the canvas, so to speak, expresses the sensation of a third dimension without the aid of perspective. A prolific artist, Picabia belongs to the type of painter that possesses the perfect tool: a tireless imagination."
The present painting, in the manner of the Transparences painted at the same period, finds its thematic source in Greco-Roman mythology. The main subject of the work, the goddess Artemis, is not however depicted in evident fashion but emerges sketchily from a tangle of vegetation and birds, whilst in the foreground an imposing profile portrait stands out which could be Apollo, the goddess's brother or, more probably, the painters' self-portrait bearing his features and hairstyle. Another source which inspired the painter is in Italian art of the 17th Century: the lower part of the composition, with the naked man laid down on the foreground, is directly inspired from a painting by Bartolomeo Schedoni (1578-1615), San Sebastiano curato da Irene (1615, Naples, Museo e Gallerie di Capodimonte – Fig. 1 and 2).
Artemis is emblematic of the works in the second Transparences series, characterized by a growing complexity and compositions that are denser than those of the very first works of 1927. Here, the figures are superposed, the faces mingled. The spectator has to gradually enter into the tangle of motifs in order to understand the different levels of meaning and conscience.
As a particularly accomplished work, Artemis throws us into the heart of Francis Picabia's artistic and intellectual approach. The deciphering of this complex painting of multiple meanings, allows for a better understanding of Léonce Rosenberg's (the artist's principal dealer) description at the time when it was painted: "the transparencies are the association between the visible and the invisible. It is this notion of time, added to that of space, which constitutes precisely the doctrine of your art. Beyond instantaneity, towards infinity, such is your ideal."
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