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Francis Picabia

Post-Impressionism, Abstract Art, Cubism, Dada, Surralism, Transparencies

(1879 - Paris - 1953)

Francis Picabia

Francis Picabia is an artist who changes often his style, but his personality and his artwork are fascinating, even for those who find them questionable. In 1994, his first painting is exhibited at Salon of French Artist and he is honoured with a mention. His family is rich but doesn’t disapprove his vocation. During six years at Decorative Arts School, Francis Picabia creates an impressionist painting, sufficiently remarkable to hold Camille Pissaro’s attention, who predicts him a huge career. 

His first solo show in 1905 is such a huge success, that the Haussmann gallery signs a contract with him. But Francis Picabia doesn’t want to be a “spoiled child” of a gallery and perceive as Sisley and Pissaro’s follower. He brutally breaks up with the Haussmann gallery in 1908. To have revenge, the gallery decided to sell the totality of his works. His rate crashes. Francis Picabia doesn’t care, and even feels freer. He tries Neo-Impressionism, painting with little touches of colours, then has a go at decorative manner of “Nabis” as Bonnard and Vuillard, almost entirely removing depth and underlining objects and personages with a dark surrounded. His schematic portraits reveal fauvism and colours posed in tint area. The vive colours of fauvism don’t distract Picabia from his interest for drawing that is the effect of emergence of cubism, recently invented by Picasso and Braque and starts to be known in 1908 – 1909.

Francis Picabia’s artworks are very coloured and constructed. This combination of colours and black circles doesn’t refer to reality. This is maybe the first abstract painting, from “one of your caprice”, said lately André Breton.

If Cubism retains attention of Picabia, he doesn’t intend to limit his palette to dark colours, characteristic of Cubist painting. His art removes figurative elements in favour of a dynamical combination of multicolour geometrical surfaces. Picabia meets Marcel Duchamp and they became friends. It is probably under the influence of Duchamp that Picabia introduces a veritable dynamism in his composition.

Picabia went to New York in 1913 for Armory Show, the first international Contemporary Art Exhibition in United States, and met Man Ray. He came back in 1915 – 1916 and discovered a technological society that impressed him so well that he started to paint machineries and mechanical forms.

In the same time, in Zurich, a little group of Dadaist poets and artists cries his aversion against war and his despair. Came back in Europe, Picabia joined this group and collaborated to Dada Revue. Tristan Tzara and Jean Art will participate to 391, a revue directed by Picabia during several years (1917 – 1924). His activity is exalted: painter, poet, illustrator, drawer, …

Thanks to Tzara, Picabia brought in Paris a new Dada generation, embodied by André Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault.  The paintings of these years are often of an aggressive simplicity, with disconcerting inscriptions.

Feeling tight in Dada Group, he started to frequent Swedish ballets, the compositors Eric Satie and René Clair, with who he created Relache (1924) and the film Entr’acte (1924). Surrealists are scandalised to see him realise too lenient paintings for a elite audience. Just after this period, Picabia produced all kind of collages and created his Monsters: personages with disproportionate noses or multi-coloured faces.

Then begins the period of Transparencies, painting in which the artist superimposes several figurative patterns and modifies colours and scale. Picabia stays a part from the movement of André Breton and stays loyal to his friends Man Ray and Duchamp.

During 1930’s, Picabia creates his work following his moods, with an obvious and mischievous pleasure to disconcert the audience. Lately, he passes from geometrical abstraction to symbolic representations.

The war, then occupation tempers this fickleness and these dark years. This doesn’t seem to affect his work. The artiste dedicates his work the academic nude. After the war, a new reversal leads him back to abstraction. 

His immoderate taste for parties and cars (he will collect more than 150 ), ruined him. Hemultiplies the small canvases fom many styles. His last paintings fall in minimalism : color dots scattered on thick and monochrome backgrounds , titled I no longer want to paint , What price?, Painting without purpose or Silence. In spring 1949 the Galerie René Drouin in Paris, organizes his first retrospective .

At the end of 1951 , Picabia suffers from arteriosclerosis paralytic that prevents him from painting and died two years later .

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