Lot 6
  • 6


1,500,000 - 2,000,000 EUR
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  • Francis Picabia
  • Médéa
  • signed Francis Picabia (lower centre) and titled MEDEA (upper right)
  • ink, pencil, watercolour and gouache on cardboard
  • 105,9 x 76 cm; 41 3/4 x 29 7/8 in.
  • Executed circa 1929.


(probably) Georges Hugnet, Paris (before 1962)
Sale: Palais Galliera, Paris, March 14, 1975, lot 20
Maurice Weinberg, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Paris, Galerie Théophile Briant, Francis Picabia, 1929, no. 30
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Francis Picabia, Mezzo secolo di avanguardia, 1974-75, no. 211, illustrated in the catalogue np.
Rome, Agenzia d'Arte Moderna and Toninelli Arte Moderna, Surrealismo, "La création d'un mythe collectif" Omaggio a André Breton, 1976, illustrated in the catalogue p. 116 (probably exhibited)
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Francis Picabia, 1976, no. 182, illustrated in the catalogue p. 153
Paris, Palais des Congrès, Picabia, Dandy et Héraut de l'art du XXe siècle, 1980-81, no. 15 (incorrectly catalogued as watercolour on cardboard)
Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Picabia 1879-1953, 1983, no. 39, illustrated in the catalogue np.
Nîmes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Francis Picabia, 1986, no. 77, illustrated in the catalogue p. 83 (incorrectly catalogued as oil on cardboard)
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Passions privées, collections particulières d'art moderne et contemporain en France, 1995-96, no. A 24-2, illustrated in the catalogue p. 256 (incorrectly catalogued as watercolour on cardboard)


Michel Sanouillet, Picabia, Paris, 1964, mentioned p. 50 and illustrated p. 122 (incorrectly described as oil)
Willam A. Camfield, Francis Picabia, His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, no. 334, mentioned p. 237-238 and illustrated np. (incorrectly catalogued as watercolour on cardboard)
Marie Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, Paris, 1985, cat no. 526, fig. 682, mentioned p. 338 and illustrated p. 354 (incorrectly catalogued as watercolour on cardboard)
William A. Camfield, Beverley Calté, Candace Clements & Arnauld Pierre, Francis Picabia, Catalogue raisonné 1927-1939, Brussels, 2019, vol. III, no. 1120, illustrated p. 223


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

“These transparencies, with their pockets of obscurity, allow me to express my innermost desires […] I want a painting where all my instincts can flow freely.”
Francis Picabia, Preface to the Francis Picabia exhibition at the Galerie Léonce Rosenberg, Paris, December 1930

“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 owns the perfect piece of equipment: a tireless imagination. ” It was in glowing terms that Marcel Duchamp spoke of Picabia’s legendary Transparencies series, of which Médea is one of the most accomplished and sophisticated examples. The first few works of this cycle were painted in 1927 and shown at the Galerie Théophile Briant in 1929, the famous exhibition in which Médea was featured. These complex, poetic compositions, which drew from the aesthetic canons of the Italian Renaissance and Greco-Roman Antiquity, immediately captivated a wide audience.

The year 1929, during which Médea was made, marked the beginning of the second period of transparencies, with works of increasing complexity and refinement. 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.”

A work of breathtaking virtuosity, composed of intertwined faces alongside figures of animals and vegetation, Médea depicts one of the most famous ancient myths, that of Jason and Medea. As William Camfield points out, Médea is one of the few transparencies where there appears to be a clear connection between the title and the image. The ram’s head, the dragon, the ancient mask and the numerous snakes that Médea had the power to charm, all allude to this episode of Greek mythology in which Médea, the daughter of King Aeëtes, uses her magical powers to help Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.

As with most of the transparencies, the work is dotted with several pictorial references. For Medea, Picabia drew more heavily from Sandro Botticelli, his favourite artist. Two of the faces in the composition were thus inspired by Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate (1497, Florence, Uffizi Gallery) while the features of the third look exactly like those of Venus in Venus and Mars (1483, London, The National Gallery). The roses scattered throughout the composition and the representation of the blast of wind are undoubtedly based on the famous painting The Birth of Venus (1483, Florence, Uffizi Gallery), while the goat’s head, which is visible in the centre of the work, echoes the deer represented by Botticelli in his fresco The Trials of Moses (1481-82, Rome, Sistine Chapel). A composition of exceptional complexity, Médea stands out not only as a magnificent tribute to one of the greatest masters of the Italian Renaissance, but also as a work that provides a total immersion into Francis Picabia’s dreamlike world.