Lot 10
  • 10


2,500,000 - 3,500,000 EUR
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  • Francis Picabia
  • Melibée
  • signed and titled
  • 195,5 x 130 cm; 77 x 51 1/8 in.
oil on canvasExecuted circa 1931.This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Comité Picabia.


Léonce Rosenberg, Paris (on loan)
G. Fontes, Paris (1975-76)
Sale: Paris, Hôtel Drouot, March 17, 1983, lot 62
Galerie Theo, Madrid
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, May 11, 1987, lot 85
Hand Neuendorf, Hamburg
Kent Fine Art, New York  
Waddington Galleries, London
Kent Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above in 1989


Cannes, Galerie Alexandre III, Picabia, 20 August-September 1930
Paris, Galerie Georges Bernheim, Exposition Francis Picabia, 10-25 November 1931; catalogue, no. 11
Amsterdam, De Onafhankelijken, Hedendaagsche Schilderkunst en Beeldhouwkunst, March 1932; catalogue, p. 9, illustrated in black and white
Barcelona, Fundació Caixa de Pensions; Madrid, Salas Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Francis Picabia 1879-1953, Exposició antologica, 29 January-26 March & 16 April-31 May 1985; catalogue, no. 110, p. 177, illustrated in colour
Nîmes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes, Francis Picabia, 11 July-30 September 1986; catalogue, no. 90, p. 154, illustrated in black and white
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Frankfurt, Galerie Neuendorf, Picabia 1879–1953, 30 July-4 September & 28 September-5 November 1988; catalogue, no. 36, p. 91, illustrated in colour
New York, Kent Fine Art, Francis Picabia, Accomodations of desire, Transparences 1924-1932, 19 April-3 June 1989; catalogue, no. XVII, p. 65, illustrated in colour
Nice, Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Picabia et la Côte d'Azur, 5 July-6 October 1991; Gijon, Centro Internacional de Arte, Picabia entre Guerras, November-December 1991; french catalogue, no. 37, p. 73, illustrated in colour
Vence, Château Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, Portraits de femmes, 3 July-September 1994; catalogue, p. 51, illustrated in colour
Vence, Château Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, Francis Picabia, July-October 1998; catalogue, front cover and p. 123, illustrated in colour
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Francis Picabia, Singulier idéal, 16 November 2002-16 March 2003; catalogue, p. 331, illustrated in colour
Krems, Kunsthalle, Francis Picabia, 15 July-4 November 2012; catalogue, p. 105, illustrated in colour
Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, David Salle, Francis Picabia, 23 January-23 February 2013; catalogue, p. 35, illustrated in colour
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Les Aventures de la vérité, Peinture et philosophie, un récit, 29 June-11 November 2013; catalogue, p. 213, illustrated in colour
Zurich, Kunsthaus; New York, Museum of Modern Art, Francis Picabia: Notre tête est ronde pour permettre à la pensée de changer de direction, 3 June-25 September 2016 & 20 November-19 March 2017; catalogue, p. 205, pl. 168, illustrated in colour


William A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: his art, life and times, Princeton, 1979, no. 349, p. 242, illustrated in black and white
Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, Paris, 1985, no. 750, pp. 367, illustrated in colour


Please contact the Impressionist and Modern Art Department for the condition report for this lot.
"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

“[Picabia] devoted himself to the study of transparency in painting. Through the juxtaposition of colour and transparent shapes, the picture essentially expressed the sense of a third dimension, without the help of perspective. Prolific in his work, Picabia belongs to the genre of artist that own the perfect piece of equipment: a tireless imagination.”
Marcel Duchamp

“We had been following Picabia's work for a long time before we opened our gallery. We fell in love with the masterpiece, Melibée while visiting New York in 1989 […]. We have cherished and admired our nymph ever since and have loaned it out many times. Its last appearance, at MoMA in 2016 for the first Picabia retrospective in the United States, completely exceeded our expectations. And, to our absolute delight, the New York Times honoured it with a full-colour front page the day after the exhibition.” Marianne and Pierre Nahon



After his Paysages impressionnistes, Espagnoles, Caouchouc (1909) - considered by some the first abstract painting - and following his Dada period, his mechanical drawings, his departure for New York in 1915, meeting Tzara in Zurich in 1919, The Animal Trainer in 1922, and his involvement in the ballet, Entr’acte; by 1927, with the Transparencies series, Picabia was trying to find the third dimension, without the use of perspective. Complex interlacing and blended faces are both enthralling to the mind and charming to the eye. Harmonious colours, captivating complexity, a return to oil painting; these artworks become magical lands, punctuated with symbolic and literary references.

The beautiful face of Melibée, is reminiscent of Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels by Piero della Francesca (1472) Pinacothèque de Brera. The position of the hands is the same.

The title also evokes the tragicomic prose of Fernando de Rojas (1502), which was extremely popular in Spain, La Célestine. Here is the story: Calixte, a young, handsome and refined nobleman, meets Mélibée, the daughter of a rich merchant, in a garden. He falls in love with her. Pure and of great beauty, she rejects him. Desperate, he asks Célestine, a greedy and spiteful old matchmaker, to help him. Potions and words take effect. Mélibée falls madly in love and gives herself to Calixte, in the garden of her family’s home, which he enters climbing a ladder to scale the wall. Alas, Calixte’s servants, bribed by Celestine, refuse to share their profits with her. A fight breaks out and shouts echo all around. Celestine is killed! Worried, Calixte rushes to leave the garden of his beloved. He leans the ladder against the wall, one of the rungs breaks. He falls, hitting his head on a sharp stone… he is dead.
The branches, leaves and pine needles that protect and mask Mélibée’s beautiful face, and her hands joined together in supplication... are these indelible marks of the fairytale?

Marianne Nahon


An intensely sombre painting, Mélibée proved to be one of the absolute masterpieces of the second Transparencies series, which began in 1929. In contrast to the series’ earlier works, the Transparencies painted between 1929 and 1932 are characterised by an increasing complexity of composition, with a profusion of themes and meanings, as Michel Sanouillet observes: “we must approach the ‘transparencies’ in the following way: they present themselves at first, as an inextricable and more or less graceful interlacing of lines and volumes that one must surrender to appreciating merely as vague impressions or with a feeling of confusion. Gradually however, these groupings both unify and separate, enabling a deeper perception of the painting and pulling us in, in a requisite leisurely manner” (in Marcel Duchamp, Marianne and Pierre Nahon, Arnauld Pierre, Picabia, classique et merveilleux, Paris, 1998).

The early works of this iconic series were painted in 1927 and from September 1928 were exhibited at the Théophile Briant Gallery in Paris, where they enjoyed immense success. The poet Jean Van Heeckeren wrote of this: “Over the past two years, Picabia has made an extraordinary artistic discovery that consists of superimposing several transparent figures. This has never been done before. This discovery is as important and prolific as the discovery of non-representational style was twenty years ago.”  After his experiments in the Dada movement, here Picabia returns to the traditional technique of oil painting. The themes of these paintings draw on history and tradition, from ancient Greece and Rome to the Renaissance, and are inspired by Botticelli or, in this case, Piero della Francesca.
At the height of his career, Picabia presents the most impressive of the Transparencies, culminating in the perfect synthesis between the impenetrable enigma of the subject, the virtuosity of the superimposed motifs and the visual power of the composition. A masterful and incredibly poignant painting, Mélibée plunges the spectator to the heart of Picabia’s artistic process, as he himself wrote in the preface to his exhibition at the Léonce Rosenberg Gallery in December 1930: “These transparencies, with their pockets of obscurity, allowed me to express my innermost desires [...] I wanted a painting where all my instincts could flow freely.”