Francis Picabia: Beautiful Monster

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A true renaissance man, Francis Picabia may be counted among the greatest artists of the 20th century, yet his art deftly defies definition and classification. While he is perhaps best known for his contributions to the Dada movement, his output spans nearly every major prevailing aesthetic of the first half of the 20th century, including Impressionism, Surrealism, Abstraction and Realism, in many cases prefiguring and directly driving the future of visual art for generations to come. He also made significant contributions to performance art and poetry, all the while collecting stamps, cars and lovers everywhere he went. A self-proclaimed “beautiful monster,” Picabia led a hedonistic, dynamic life and never ceased to spin spectacular myths around his artwork. Earlier this year, a critically acclaimed retrospective of his work was held at Kunsthaus Zurich and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Click ahead for a selection of works to be offered on 17 May, which exemplify Picabia's affinity for varied artistic movements as well as his refusal to be bound by any one. 

Impressionist & Modern Art Day

17 May | New York


Francis Picabia: Beautiful Monster

  • Effet de Soleil (Avril); Sur les bords du Loing, 1905. Estimate $70,000–90,000.
    For the first few years of his career, Picabia was influenced by and experimented with Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Fauvism.  Picabia was less interested in capturing the changing moods of his chosen landscape than in making an "Impressionist" painting — the beginning of a ravenous appropriation of technique and style that would come to define his career. In the present work, he reproduces a scene on the banks of the Loing river made famous by Alfred Sisley. 


  • Picabia in his studio at 32 avenue Charles Floquet, Paris, 1912.
    “What I like is to invent, to imagine, to make of myself at every moment a new man, and then, to forget him, to forget everything.” Picabia’s words reveal his obsession with reinvention and a nihilistic worldview. The hybrid character of his oeuvre is a precursor of myriad movements including Pop art, Conceptual art and appropriation art, among others.

  • Le Torrent, 1911. Estimate $400,000–600,000.
    In 1923, Picabia began telling a story about a period in his life when, as a young man at home and in need of money to finance a growing stamp collection, he had set about systematically selling the paintings in his father’s collection, replacing them with copies of his own making. So accomplished were the copies that the deceit only came to light when he confessed. Fraudulence, he began to realise, was not something passed through on the way to authenticity, but was an essential part of the very structure of modernism. 

  • Broyeur, 1922, Estimate $200,000–300,000.
    Picabia avoided military service by constantly travelling during the years of the First World War and became an active writer and editor of journals. Surrounded by typesetters and prints, the machine became an overt image in Picabia’s work.  By 1922, he had established a process for creating his so-called mechanomorphs — fantasy machines that double as witty portraits, verging on abstraction. The machine source for Broyeur was a diagram of a "broyeur-concasseur à mâchoires," which was published in La Science et la Vie (June–July 1920).

  • Transparence (Deux Têtes), 1935. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    Springing from his Dada works and a fascination with transparency and opacity, in the 1920s and 1930s Picabia pursued strategies of layering, masking and superimposition in painting. Drawing inspiration from natural phenomena, Romanesque Frescos, Renaissance painting and Catalan art, Picabia used the "Transparencies" series as a means to complicating the notion of art as a window into or a reflection of the world; instead, Picabia sought to create a surreal interplay of imagery that would confound traditional and straightforward interpretations.

  • Composition abstraite, 1938. Estimate $120,000–180,000.
    When posed with the question "What does one see in your current works?" Picabia replied: "Everyone sees something different and may even see something else each day according to his state of mind... each painting is for me a drama, passing through each stage of my previous creations, superimposed shapes and transparencies, to continue to aim to reach that elusive but ecstatic moment where I know that I have grasped the unattainable, the real,” (quoted in Francis Picabia, Singulier Idéal (exhibition catalogue), Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris, 2002, p. 384). 


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