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Francis Picabia

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

(1879 - Paris - 1953)

Francis Picabia

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

His first solo show in 1905 was such a huge success that the Haussmann gallery immediately signed a contract with him. But Francis Picabia didn't want to be a “spoiled child” of a gallery, or to be perceived as Sisley and Pissaro’s follower. He brutally broke up with the Haussmann gallery in 1908. To have revenge, the gallery decided to sell the totality of his works. His rate crashed, but Francis Picabia didn't care, and even felt freer. He tried Neo-Impressionism, painting with little touches of colours, then had a go at the decorative manner of the “Nabis” such as Bonnard and Vuillard, almost entirely removing depth and underlining objects and personages with a dark surrounding. His schematic portraits reveal fauvism and colours posed in tint area. The vivid colours of fauvism didn't distract Picabia from his interest in drawing, and with the effect of the emergence of cubism, recently invented by Picasso and Braque, he started 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 retained the attention of Picabia, he didn't intend to limit his palette to dark colours, a characteristic of Cubist painting. His art removed figurative elements in favour of a dynamical combination of multicolour geometrical surfaces. Picabia met Marcel Duchamp and they became friends. It is probably under the influence of Duchamp that Picabia introduced a veritable dynamism in his compositions.

Picabia went to New York in 1913 for the 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 cried his aversion against war and his despair. Coming back in Europe, Picabia joined this group and collaborated to Dada Revue. Tristan Tzara and Jean Art would participate in 391, a revue directed by Picabia during several years (1917 – 1924). His activity is exalted: painter, poet, illustrator, drawer, …

Thanks to Tzara, Picabia brought to 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 the 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 were scandalised to see him realise too lenient paintings for an elite audience. Just after this period, Picabia produced all kinds of collages and created his Monsters: personages with disproportionate noses and multi-coloured faces.

Then begins the period of Transparencies, paintings in which the artist superimposed several figurative patterns and modified colours and scale. Picabia stayed a part of the movement of André Breton and stayed loyal to his friends Man Ray and Duchamp.

During 1930’s, Picabia created his work following his moods, with an obvious and mischievous pleasure to discontent the audience. Later on, he passed from geometrical abstraction to symbolic representations.

The war, then his occupation tempered this fickleness and these dark years. This didn't seem to affect his work. The artist dedicated his work to the academic nude. After the war, a new reversal led him back to abstraction. 

His immoderate taste for parties and cars (he will collect more than 150 ), ruined him. He multiplied the small canvases from 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 the spring of 1949 the Galerie René Drouin in Paris, he organizez his first retrospective .

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

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Work(s)