Lot 39
  • 39


350,000 - 450,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Francis Picabia
  • Espagnole
  • signed Francis Picabia (lower left)
  • oil on board
  • 75.5 by 53cm.
  • 29 3/4 by 20 7/8 in.
  • Painted circa 1941-42.


Private Collection, France 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

Catalogue Note

In December 1941 Picabia wrote to the dealer Paul Rosenberg: ‘What has become of you? I’m working a lot; it’s the best method for forgetting but what a horrible age we live in’. The work Picabia was referring to amounted to another radical change of direction for the artist. From the monster paintings of the 1920s and the transparences of the early 1930s he moved into the new phase of what came to be known as his photo-paintings. Based – as we now know – on photographs from magazines and postcards, they caused much confusion among both his contemporaries and later art historians. It seemed impossible to reconcile contemporary world events and Picabia’s position at the forefront of avant-garde art with the hyperrealist style and pseudo-kitsch subject matter of these works. 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).

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Picabia.