Lot 15
  • 15

FRANCIS PICABIA | Sous les oliviers (Coquetterie)

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 GBP
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  • Francis Picabia
  • Sous les oliviers (Coquetterie)
  • signed Francis Picabia (lower right)
  • oil and Ripolin on board
  • 74.5 by 104.5cm.
  • 29 3/8 by 41 1/8 in.
  • Painted circa 1925-26.


(probably) Mariette Mills (Mrs Lawrence Heyworth Mills, Jr.), Paris & New Jersey (acquired circa 1949) Mme M. Paimparay, Paris (acquired circa 1951-52)

Michel Périnet, Paris (acquired from the above in 1973)

Sale: Palais d'Orsay, Paris, 9th June 1977, lot 38

Galerie de Seine, Paris (purchased at the above sale)

(probably) Galerie Rudolf Springer, Berlin (acquired circa 1980)

Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg

Charles & Doris Saatchi, London (acquired in 1983)

Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in the 1980s. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 25th June 2008, lot 40)

Private Collection (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 14th May 2018, lot 27)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Paris, Galerie René Drouin, 491, 50 ans de plaisirs, 1949, no. 33 (titled Coquetterie and as dating from 1922)  (probably) Paris, Galerie Artiste et Artisan, Quelques œuvres de Picabia (époque Dada 1915-1925), 1951

Paris, Galerie Furstenberg, Exposition Picabia, 1956, no. 34 (titled Coquetterie)

Paris, Galerie Mona Lisa, Picabia vu en transparence, 1961, no. 26, detail illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1922) 

Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Zurich, Kunsthaus & Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Francis Picabia, 1983-84, no. 53 (in Düsseldorf & Zurich); no. 48 (in Stockholm), illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Coquetterie and as dating from 1922)


'Francis Picabia in His Latest Moods', in This Quarter, vol. 1, no. 3, Monte Carlo, Spring 1927, illustrated Michel Perrin (ed.), Fixe: Francis Picabia. Dau al set (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Dalmau, Barcelona, 1952, illustrated

Olga Mohler Picabia & Maurizio Fagiolo, Album Picabia: immagini della vita di Francis Picabia, Turin, 1975, illustrated p. 34

Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, no. 442, fig. 605, illustrated in colour p. 320 & on the dust jacket (as dating from 1926)

William A. Camfield, Beverly Calté, Candace Clements, Arnauld Pierre, Aurélie Verdier & Pierre Calté, Francis Picabia, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven & London, 2016, vol. II, no. 916, illustrated in colour p. 404

Catalogue Note

‘His concern for invention leads [Picabia] to use Ripolin instead of sanctified tube paints, which, in his view, take on too rapidly the patina of posterity. He loved the new, and his canvases of 1923, 1924, 1925, have this aspect of fresh painting, which keeps the intensity of the first moment.’
Marcel Duchamp  

Sous les oliviers (Coquetterie) belongs to one of the most celebrated bodies of work in Picabia’s œuvre, the so-called ‘monster’ paintings dating from the mid-1920s. Having broken off from the official Surrealist movement, in 1925 Picabia left Paris and moved to the Midi, where he built the Château de Mai. Enjoying the splendour offered by this new environment in the South of France, his creativity received a new impetus and the artist spent his days painting in the vast studio of the Château. This renewed interest in the medium of painting resulted in works executed in Ripolin paint applied with great verve, with subjects often based on society figures he came in contact with as well as on sentimental imagery of mass-produced postcards of the period (fig. 3). Picabia himself attached great importance to this group of works: for the Spring 1927 edition of the review This Quarter, devoted to him, the artist himself selected thirteen ‘monster’ paintings for publication, including Sous les oliviers (Coquetterie).

The present work is one the most remarkable of Picabia’s ‘Couples’, highly stylised depictions of men and women with romantic references, often embracing (figs. 1&2). Here, the figures are rendered in brilliant, strong colours applied with a great sense of energy. After the experimentations with various media and techniques that characterised his Dada years, in the mid-1920s Picabia rejoiced in the act of painting, using simplified signs, such as circles, crosses and zig-zag lines that can be seen as a legacy of his Dada style. The abstract, geometric forms and lines painted in black and white and in strong, bright colours, are used to signify various elements of the composition, a style that came to be known as ‘signic automatism’. Maria Lluïsa Borràs wrote about the group of works that includes Sous les oliviers: ‘This protracted series of couples transformed into notable examples of signic automatism may have had its origin in the film and play reviews that filled so many pages of Comoedia, which were nearly always illustrated by photographs of the two leading characters in the work under review – almost invariably represented with their heads very close together’ (M. L. Borràs, op. cit., p. 290).

Although not officially a member of Breton’s group, Picabia continued to work in the field of automatism, central to Surrealist ideology. Borràs further commented about the unique pictorial language Picabia developed during this period: ‘… the eye is simply replaced by the sign of an eye. In these works, now known as his ‘monsters’, Picabia created a new language that enhanced sign and rhythm over and above any other pictorial element, such as line, mass or colour, freeing the hand from all control by reason in such a way that it seemed to be receiving its impulse from the subconscious. He transformed the traditional portrait of a lady with her hand on her breast into the basis of a completely new language, as far removed from Renaissance perspective as it was from Cubist dogmatism. […] The number of works extant in this style permit us to assert that on Picabia’s part this was neither a passing whim nor a chance experiment; it was, on the contrary, the result of a firm intention to explore this new mode and new language to its ultimate consequences’ (ibid., p. 289).

Picabia painted Sous les oliviers (Coquetterie) using Ripolin, an industrial enamel paint originally developed in the 1890s. Immensely popular in the early twentieth century for commercial use, artists including Picabia, Picasso, Moholy-Nagy and Magritte began to incorporate Ripolin into their canvases, resulting in a glossy and often rippled effect that distinguished them from traditional oil paints. Created primarily for industrial use, these new paints attracted the most experimental and boundary-breaking artists of the time; it is no surprise that Picabia, always interested in experimenting with different textures and surfaces, was drawn to the visual effects and modernist connotations of this new medium.