Lot 110
  • 110

Francis Picabia

700,000 - 1,000,000 EUR
bidding is closed


  • Francis Picabia
  • Intervention d'une femme au moyen d'une machine
  • titled INTERVENTION D'UNE FEMME AU MOYEN D'UNE MACHINE, signed F. PICABIA, inscribed NEW YORK and dated 1915/17 JUIN (towards lower right)
  • pencil, watercolour, ink and gouache on paper mounted on cardboard
  • 75.3 x 50.5 cm; 29 5/8 x 19 7/8 in.


Alfred Stieglitz, New York
Tom Muir, New York
Elaine Braun, New York (acquired from the above circa 1933)
Oscar and Elaine Braun, New York (and sold: Christie's, New York, May 16, 1985, lot 122)
Acquired at the above sale by Dr. Arthur Brandt


New York, Dickinson Roundell Inc., Female Form: Paintings, drawings and sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries, 2001, illustrated in the catalogue n. p.
New York, Sperone Westwater Gallery, Giorgio De Chirico, Francis Picabia, Andy Warhol: A Triple Alliance, 2004, illustrated in the catalogue pp. 56-57
Paris, Musée d'Orsay; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, New York et l'Art Moderne: Alfred Stieglitz et son cercle 1905-1930, 2004-05, no. 39, illustrated in the catalogue p. 132 
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne/Centre Pompidou; Washington, National Gallery of Art; New York, Museum of Modern Art, Dada, 2005-06, no. 3, illustrated in the catalogue p. 803 (French edition); no. 285, illustrated in the catalogue (American edition)
Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, A Private Eye: Dada, Surrealism and More from the Brandt Collection, 2006, illustrated in the catalogue p. 111
New York, El Museo del Barrio, Nexus New York: Latin/American Artists in the Modern Metropolis, 2009-10
Milan, I Palazzo Reale,  La Grande Madre, 2015, illustrated in the catalogue p. 109


William A. Camfield, "Du '291' à 391: Alfred Stieglitz, Marius de Zayas et Francis Picabia, un dialogue à trois, 1913-1917", in New York et l'art moderne: Alfred Stieglitz et son cercle 1905-1930, Paris, 2004, illustrated pp. 131-132
Robert Rosenblum, "A Triple Alliance: de Chirico, Picabia, Warhol" in A Triple Alliance: Giorgio De Chirico, Francis Picabia, Andy Warhol, New York, 2004, illustrated p. 5
William A. Camfield, Beverly Calté, Candace Clements, Arnaud Pierre & Pierre Calté, Francis Picabia, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II 1915-1927, New Haven & London, 2016, no. 493, illustrated pp. 204-205


Executed on cream wove paper, laid down on card. There is a light horizontal repaired tear across the lower edge of the sheet (as illustrated in the catalogue) There is a further thin repaired tear (approx. 18 cm long) along the right upper edge, another to the upper right corner and a T shaped minor repaired tear to the centre of the upper right quadrant. There are a few further cosmetic restorations along the extreme edges. There are faint spots of foxing in minor areas of the sheet.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Intervention d'une femme au moyen d'une machine is a landmark in Francis Picabia's art bearing the highly provocative title “Invention of a woman by means of a machine”, that at the time was perhaps as controversial and boldly outrageous as such a statement would be considered today. Created soon after his arrival in New York in 1915, it marks the abrupt progression in his work from the Udnie series of Cubist-style paintings of 1913-14 to the mechanical portraits and ‘mechanomorphs’ of 1915-16 which would form the defining principles of his art throughout the Dada period until the early-1920s. Intervention… is a watershed work, crucial to the development of a truly innovative and unique artistic vocabulary which would have a pronounced influence on the evolution of 20th-century art.

A constant innovator throughout his career, Picabia’s voyage to New York in 1915 provided the catalyst for creating a new body of works. He arrived with his wife Gabrielle Buffet in the first days of June 1915. As she recalled: "Rejected by the army, Marcel Duchamp prepared to leave for the United States; Guillaume Apollinaire went off to war; Picabia, who had never thought of invoking his Cuban nationality, was compelled in his turn to don uniform, to which no one could have been less suited, and served as a general's chauffeur up to the day when an influential and understanding friend managed to save him from the barracks by entrusting him with an important mission to Cuba. He was to go by way of New York, and set sail in April 1915. Meeting Marcel Duchamp and a group of old-time friends in New York, he forgot his mission and pursued his voyage no further". (Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, "Some Memories of Pre-Dada: Picabia and Duchamp" (1949), in Robert Motherwell (ed.), The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, New York, 1951, p. 259).

The group of friends that Picabia met with in New York was centred around Alfred Stieglitz, whom he had met on his first trip to New York in 1913 upon the occasion of the Armory Show. Picabia immediately began collaborating on the group’s latest project, the magazine 291, first published in March 1915 and named after the gallery Stieglitz had established at 291 Fifth Avenue. The cataclysmic effect that his arrival in America had on Picabia was succinctly described by de Zayas in the July-August issue of 291: "Of all those who have come to conquer America, Picabia is the only one who has done as did Cortez. He has burned his ship behind him. He does not protect himself with any shield. He has married America like a man who is not afraid of consequences. He has obtained results." (Marius de Zayas, 291, no. 5-6, July-August 1915, p. 3). The same issue of 291 contains five illustrations, each one a reproduction of one of Picabia's ‘mechanical’ portraits of the members of his circle, inspired by line drawings of objects found in the popular press: Stieglitz is portrayed as a camera, Paul Haviland a lightbulb, Agnes Meyer a spark plug, Marius de Zayas a composition formed around a mannequin and Picabia himself an automobile horn.

The mechanical portraits have almost no precedent in Picabia's earlier work or indeed in any form of artistic portraiture. William Camfield has argued that "during 1913-1914 he developed a completely personal art which sought to express psychological states by abstract pictorial equivalents. The content of many of these paintings is based on events in his private life" (William A. Camfield, "The Machinist Style of Francis Picabia", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 48, No. 3/4 [September-December 1966], p. 313). Picabia himself stated that, "In my paintings, the public is not to look for a ‘photographic’ recollection of a visual impression or sensation, but to look at them as simply an attempt to express the purest part of the abstract reality of form and color in itself" (Francis Picabia, "Preface to the Exhibition at the Little Gallery," 291 [17th March 1913]; reprinted in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, pp. 109-110.) Some of the major canvases painted when he had returned to Paris were developed from the watercolours he had made and exhibited in New York.

Works such as Udnie (1913, Centre Pompidou, Paris) and Edtaonisl (1913, The Art Institute of Chicago) exemplifed his search for a more abstract form of expression dealing with both thoughts and sensations, rather than physical objects. The machine did not yet form part of Picabia’s artistic vocabulary, despite his intimate knowledge of this new current in Duchamp’s work, for the latter gave him his breakthrough painting La Mariée (Bride) soon after it was completed in August 1912 (Fig. 2). Described by Duchamp as "my concept of a bride expressed by the juxtaposition of mechanical elements and visceral forms" (cited in Marcel Duchamp, eds. Anne d'Harnoncourt & Kynaston McShine, New York, 1973, p. 263.), La Mariée represents a critical step in the growing influence of the machine in Duchamp’s art which would see its ultimate expression in his masterpiece La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (1915-23, Philadelphia Museum of Art). The turning point in Duchamp’s "constant battle to make an exact and complete break" with the techniques and intentions of traditional painting had occurred in Paris in 1912, when he attended a performance of Raymond Roussel’s play Impressions d'Afrique accompanied by Picabia. Roussel’s play included a number of absurd machines, including a “painting machine”. Only one painting made by Picabia prior to his voyage to New York combines mechanical and organic forms. The composition Je revois en souvenir ma chère Udnie of 1914 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) was surely influenced by Duchamp’s La Mariée (Fig. 3) that was first owned by Picabia. Importantly, it shares certain formal elements with the present work, such as the coil-like parts which would appear to represent the hips of the sitter. Intervention…is one of the few works from this period – indeed, one of the few throughout Picabia's career – to be precisely dated: “17 juin 1915”. It is closely related to Fille née sans mère (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) that was published in the June issue of 291, just a few days after his arrival in New York (another work of the same title date was made in 1916-17). This work may even be considered to be a precursor for Intervention…, and it  is clear that both these works were among the very first that Picabia created after his arrival in America, the crucible of the experiments so influenced by his new environment and that caused so momentous a rupture in his artistic development.

Though "from 1912 onward he was familiar with the Italian Futurists who glorified the modern machine-dominated worlds in their manifestos and strove in their paintings (though they rarely depicted machines) to express emotions exacerbated by the simultaneous experience of the speed, power and noise of that machine age" (William A. Camfield, "The Machinist Style of Francis Picabia", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 48, No. 3/4, p. ), it was not until his arrival in New York and his immersion in the cultural life of the Stieglitz group, that the importance of the machine aesthetic became apparent. The September-October 1915 issue of 291 included Paul Haviland’s text: "We are living in the age of the machine. Man made the machine in his own image. She has limbs which act; lungs which breathe; a heart which beats; a nervous system through which runs electricity. The phonograph is the image of his voice; the camera the image of his eye. The machine is his "daughter born without a mother." That is why he loves her. He has made the machine superior to himself… She submits to his will but he must direct her activities. Without him she remains a wonderful being, but without aim or anatomy. Through their mating they complete one another. She brings forth according to his conceptions." (Paul Haviland, 291, no. 7-8, September-October 1915).

Picabia’s work of 1913-14, particularly Je revois en souvenir ma chère Udnie (Fig. 2), has frequently been interpreted as based on the memories of frustrated sexual encounters. A ferocious womaniser, he and Duchamp lived in New York in what Gabrielle Buffet described as "an inconceivable orgy of sexuality, jazz and alcohol" (Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, "Some Memories of Pre-Dada: Picabia and Duchamp" (1949), in Robert Motherwell, ed., The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, New York, 1951, p. 259). Clearly impressed by the liberal nature exhibited by some of the Americans he met, Picabia also recognized sexual metaphors in the functions of the certain machines.

Intervention…can be considered Picabia’s first response to 291 group’s espousal of the machine age. Duchamp’s presence in the city – he arrived a week or so after Picabia – must have spurred him on in his quest. In Duchamp’s studio, he would have discovered certain mechanical works which were to be vital to the development of La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, such as Chocolate Grinder and 9 Malic Moulds. The crucial role Intervention… played in the development of Picabia’s own mechanical art is in part illustrated by its title, since it is likely the first use of the word "machine" within the title of any his works. Picabia held great importance in the titles of his works, explaining, "in my work the subjective expression is the title, the painting the object" (statement in 291, no. 12, February 1916). Like almost all his most important works of this period, the title of Intervention… is adapted from a phrase plucked out of the "pages roses" of the Larousse dictionary: "Deus ex machina : l'intervention… d'un dieu… au moyen d'une machine" (see also Arnaud Pierre, “Mechanical Udnie: A Theater of Automata in the Days of Dada,” in William A. Camfied, et al, Francis Picabia: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II 1915-1927 [Anagram, Ghent: Mercatorfonds, 2016], p. 168). In Picabia’s interpretation, god is replaced by woman. In the related composition Fille née sans mère, the machine / girl is born not from her mother but from the artist / god, who makes the machine in "his own image".