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By Beverley Calte


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Picabia and her parents,

around 1882

francis Picabia enfant

Picabia in 1889

Francis Picabia  was born in Paris on January 22, 1879, 82 rue des Petits Champs.
It was in this same house that he died on November 30, 1953 (today rue Danielle Casanova).
During the seventy-four years of his life, Picabia explored most of the artistic movements of his time, a feat as exceptional as the era itself. If his childhood is comfortable from a material point of view, it is emotionally disturbed.“Between my head and my hand” he said in 1922, “there is always the image of death”. Young, he is the terrible child, later he becomes the perfect rastaquouère, the joker or the sparkling adventurer: it is the public facade of his complex personality.


Only child, François Marie Martinez Picabia is the son of a Spaniard born in Cuba, Francisco Vicente Martinez Picabia, and a Frenchwoman, Marie Cécile Davanne, marriage of the Spanish aristocracy and the French bourgeoisie. Picabia  At the age of seven his mother died of tuberculosis. A year later, her maternal grandmother also disappeared.


The child finds himself alone with his father, Consul of Cuba in Paris, his unmarried uncle, Maurice Davanne, curator of the Sainte-Geneviève library, and his grandfather,_cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Alphonse Davanne, wealthy businessman and fervent amateur photographer. Francis escapes the loneliness and boredom of this “house without a wife” thanks to drawing and painting.

To his grandfather, who predicted that photography would eventually replace painting, Picabia replied:
“You can photograph a landscape, but not the ideas I have in my head. » a fundamental theme that brings together the aesthetic convictions of Picabia, among the most heterodox of this century



R. Pissarro, Orliac, Picabia and M. Pissarro, Martigues, 1898

Very early on, he showed great independence of character; simultaneously, his artistic talent asserted itself. After a tumultuous schooling, Picabia  began his apprenticeship in 1895 at the School of Decorative Arts where he was a student of_cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-5857Cormoncf,9057bad,905bad -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Humbert et Wallet. Braque et Marie Laurencin are his classmates.

In 1899 Picabia  made his debut at the Salon des Artistes Français with the painting A street in Martigues. It is only after 1902 that we feel in the painting of Picabia  the influence of Pissarro -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Sisley. It was then that his impressionist period began. He exhibited at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants, as well as at the avant-garde gallery de Berthe Weill. Success and notoriety were not long in coming. Picabia signed a contract with the prestigious Galerie Haussmann.

In 1905, the owner of the gallery, Danthon, organized the first of three exhibitions devoted to Picabia, it was the beginning_cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3d_d_bad5 a prolific period during which he perfected his impressionist technique. The approach of Picabia  is in line with the Symbolist-Synthesist concepts of the end of the 19th century: art is not considered as a reproduction of nature but rather like the artist's emotional experience of it, expressed subjectively in a synthesis of shapes and colors.

While his reputation was well established after his exhibition at the Georges Petit gallery in 1909, Picabia abandoned the past and the prestigious place he already occupied there to embark on the adventure of 'modern Art. The same year he married Gabrielle Buffet, a young avant-garde musician, who would be an intellectual stimulus for him throughout his life. His two abstract drawings from 1908 foreshadow  his abstract painting from 1909, Rubber. It was the first of many ruptures, which characterized both the work and the life of Picabia, although he waited until 1912 to explore this new path. A young artist of thirty, he was rejected by all the renowned galleries, their clientele and by the critics. The coup de grace was given by Danthon, in March 1909 at the Hôtel Drouot, when he sold over a hundred impressionist paintings by Picabia at auction.

Between 1909 and 1914, Picabia  rubbed shoulders with the “isms” of the beginning of the century: Fauvism, Futurism, Cubism and Orphism. He continues his exploration of the new visual language of Modernism. bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Marc Le Bot in his thesis, Francis Picabia and the crisis of figurative values_cc781905-5cde-3194-bb35b-cf58d

"more new ideas than any other avant-garde artist. He would have been Cubist like Braque and Picasso, Orphic like Delaunay and he would have moreover invented abstract art, without ever agreeing to systematically exploit any of these formulas ."

It is the rite of passage between Neo-Impressionism and simpler, more radically abstract forms. Throughout this period, Picabia is looking for his own language to transcribe his inner state. He exhibited regularly in salons, from his Fauvist works of 1911 to the basic Cubist canvases of the following year. In the salons of 1911, he exhibited Spring et adam and eve, among other works. The following year, he presented much more abstract paintings, including Tarantella et Port of Naples, at the Salon de la Société Normande ; Dances at the SourceI et The Source  at the Salon d'Automne and finally, at the Galerie la Boëtie, paintings such as Procession in Seville et Dances at the Source II, works totally non-figurative.



Gabrielle Buffet and Picabia, 1909

Picabia in his studio, 32 Avenue Charles Floquet, 1911


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Picabia in New York, 1913

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Marius de Zayas and Picabia, New York, 1913

1913 was a landmark year in the history of modern art: the Armory Show (the International Exhibition of Modern Art) took place in New York. Picabia goes there with his wife Gabrielle  as an ambassador and spokesperson for the European avant-garde;
he immediately becomes famous. At the Armory Show he exhibited four paintings from 1912:  Dances at the Source I, Procession in Seville, Paris et Souvenir from Italyin Grimaldi. A la presse, Picabia explique qu'il « peint son âme sur la toile » et que in his paintings, "the public should not look for a 'photographic' memory of a visual impression or sensation, but should look at them as an attempt to express the purest of the abstract reality of form and color considered in themselves. » With the exception of the most enlightened, reviews are mixed, with many journalists calling its “colour harmonies” 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_“danger to art”, de“hoax”, de “conspiracy”. 

The visit to New York, which was supposed to last two weeks, lasted almost six months. Abstractes, “... that the confrontation of modern European art with the New World and even the presence of Picabia in the United States and later that of Marcel Duchamp freed artists and intellectuals from the obsession with the European academic tradition and made them aware of their personal genius." -136bad5cf58d_ and his group of friends, artists who meet at Gallery 291 (at number 291 of 5th Avenue), where he exhibits a series of large watercolors made in his room at the Hotel Brevoort.

Just as he left his mark on the city, New York left an indelible mark on Picabia; its extreme modernity, paradigm of the spirit of the industrial revolution, illustrates its progressive ideas: here, the machines turn without respite. 

In 1913 Picabia declared,  "New York is the only Cubist city in the world... the future city. It expresses modern thought in its architecture, its life, its spirit. »  This inspiration led him to create worksStar dancer on a Transatlanticnigger song and the many New York.

Back in Paris in 1913, Picabia exhibited two other important paintings at the Salon d'Automne,Edtaonisl(Ecclesiastical) andUdnie. During this period he also painted Catch as catch can and Physical culture. Between 1913 and 1914 he created works such as“Petit” Udnie, French ImpetuosityandI see again in memory my dear Udnie.



the Private Picabiaby Marius

by Zayas, 1915

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Marcel Duchamp, Picabia and Beatrice Wood, New York, 1917

Then, the infernal machine explodes: 1914, the First World War. Thanks to family relations, military Picabia went on a mission to Cuba in May 1915, a mission he abandoned during a stopover in New York. He reconnected with his friends at Galerie 291, Steiglitz and Marius de Zayas, with Marcel Duchamp and with the salon of Walter Arensberg, a great friend of the arts. In an October 1915 New York Tribune article titled “French Artists Boost American Art,” Picabia wrote:  "The machine has become more than just an instrument of life human. It is truly a part of human life. I appropriated the mechanics of the modern world and introduced it into my studio...”  Further on he says he wants to work until he reaches “the summit of symbolism mechanical". In the magazine 291 (from Gallery 291), he published a series of "portrait-objects" like that of Alfred Steiglitz represented as a camera,portrait of an american girlseen as a motor spark plug (the igniter) and the drawingDaughter born without mother (quintessence of the machine, created by man in his image).

The use of the symbolic vocabulary of machines leads to a more elaborate “mecanomorphic” period where machines are removed from their usual context to become pure objects, often eroticized. In 1916, Picabia exhibited a new series of mechanical paintings at the Modern Gallery, a new company of the 291 group, directed by Marius de Zayas, including Very rare painting on the earth, Machine without a name and Here is the woman. Due to his excesses in New York, signs of neurasthenia appear, followed by a nervous breakdown. For the next ten months, Picabia spent his time between Barcelona and New York, trying to escape the war. While residing temporarily in Barcelona with his expatriate friends, Marie Laurencin, Gleizes, Cravan and Charchoune, he took up poetry seriously. In 1917 Picabia published his first collection of poems under the titlefifty-two mirrors. The same year he published391, in memory of Steiglitz's review, 291, which became Picabia's personal forum, in the provocative spirit of Dada.391has a lifespan of seven years. He died in 1924 after nineteen publications.

In the spring of 1917, as America declared war on Germany, Picabia made his last trip to New York where his mainly Dadaist activities were centered around Duchamp and Arensberg. Back in Paris in October, Picabia saw her health deteriorate and her private life darken. The same year, he met Germaine Everling who would soon become his devoted companion. The following year, he left for Switzerland for a period of convalescence during which his doctors forbade him to paint. He writes feverishly:Poems and Drawings of the Girl Born Without a Mother, The Funeral Director's AthleteandPlatonic racks.


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Dada in Paris, around 1920

Picabia et Germaine Everling, vers 1921

Picabia and Germaine Everling, circa 1921

Picabia est aussi en contact avec Tristan Tzara et des Dadaïstes de Zurich.En 1919, après dix ans et quatre enfants,_cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Picabia separates from his first wife and embarks on a new adventure with Germaine Everling_cc781905-5cde-3194-6baddaïtes.bads.dsadtes.bb35b-18 Although being in the Dada spirit from 1913, with Duchamp in New York,  Picabia now prepares the passage to adulthood movement in Paris.

Under the influence of Picabia, alias “Funny Guy”, everything becomes an object of derision for Dada: art, artists, religion, nationalism. It becomes anti-everything, as anti-bourgeois as it is anti-communist.

“Artists mock the bourgeoisie, supposedly; I don't care about the bourgeoisie and the artists» dit Picabia en 1923.

The game is ingenious, furiously funny and scandalous. And yet, it quickly turns short for Picabia. At forty, “Papa-Dada” is still an eternal loner. “The only way to be followed is to run faster than the others. »

Picabia meets the Dadaists in the company of Gabrielle in Zurich in 1919; later the same year they met in Paris at the apartment he now shared with Germaine Everling. Before the great Dada season of 1920, Picabia the polemicist published many avant-garde writings, in particular in André Breton's review, Littérature, in the Revue Dada and in his own review, 391. He also publishedthoughts without languageand once again scandalized the Salon d'Automne withThe carburetor childandlove parade, among others, which are examples of his mechanical style, unheard of in Paris.

In 1920, it was the Belle Époque for Dada in Paris: at its head, Tristan Tzara, André Breton and Picabia. All of Paris dances to its own rhythm. It's a year full of ideas, “happenings”, exhibitions, books, articles and reviews, including Cannibale, Picabia's latest. To the richness of Dada poetry, he contributes with Unique eunuch and Jesus Christ Rastaquouère. Picabia's most characteristic Dada works were exhibited that year, provoking new scandals: these were theDouble World, from The Blessed Virginand ofPortrait of Cezanne, work showing a stuffed monkey hanging from a canvas.



Excerpt from short film,Intermission, 1924


Picabia and Jacques Doucet,

around 1925

After having supported André Breton and the Congress of Paris against Tzara in a pamphlet, La Pomme des Pins, in 1924, Picabia again declared war on Breton and the Surrealists in a new series of 391. The last four publications of the review came out that year, when he was completing his fictionalized autobiography, Caravansérail (which would not be published until 1975 by Pierre Belfond). In a diatribe against Surrealism, he speaks of it as a fabricated movement. “Artificial eggs do not make chickens”  he launches. Picabia's Instantaneism, short-lived rival to surrealism, gave rise to Relâche, an “instantaneous” ballet of “perpetual movement” and Entr'acte. Relâche is produced by Rolf de Maré and the Ballets Suédois, with choreography by Jean Borlin and music by Erik Satie. The short film Entr'acte is written by Picabia and directed by René Clair. This “interlude” between the two acts of burlesque ballet is a perfect snapshot between Dadaism and Surrealism. While writing the screenplay for a new farce, Ciné-Sketch, which is presented only once, on New Year's Eve 1925, “Funny Guy” bids farewell to Paris.


Picabia lived twenty years on the Côte d'Azur. But the echo of the absent “rastaquouère” still resounds in the capital, swollen by his frequent visits and exhibitions, as well as by the noise of the legend that his Mediterranean lifestyle spread about him. His first stop was Mougins, located in the hills behind Cannes, where he built the Château de Mai where he settled with Germaine Everling, her son Michel Corlin and their son Lorenzo, born in 1919. It was then that enters the scene Olga Mohler, a young Swiss woman of twenty hired first as governess for Lorenzo.


The paintings baptized the “Monsters” (masked with pointed noses, one eye, likeThe woman with the monocle, or with multiple eyes) appeared as early as 1924. There are caricatures of subjects borrowed from classical painters, such as The Three Graces from the famous painting by Rubens, The Woman with a Dog from the engravings by Dürer, or Fantastic Nude, from 'After Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco. Or again, couples of lovers vibrant with voluptuous Ripolin painting like Young Married and The Kiss, and others in a festive atmosphere, covered in streamers and confetti like Carnaval and Mi-Carême. All these characters are deformations of romantic postcards of the time.

Picabia's dazzling notoriety followed him to Cannes where he quickly established himself as the local celebrity at the Casino and its Galas. The frequent visits of his Parisian friends like Jacques Doucet, Marthe Chenal, Pierre de Massot and Marcel Duchamp maintain his “worldly life”. In 1926, eighty Picabia were sold at auction at the Hôtel Drouot, allegedly from the personal collection of Marcel Duchamp, his old accomplice. The following year, Picabia administered the last rites at Dada; he wrote a scathing article in Comoedia entitled “Picabia against Dada or the return to reason.” He insistently proclaims that "art cannot be democratic"  which is consistent with his lifelong doctrine:  “Nature is unjust? So much the better, inequality is the only bearable thing, the monotony of equality can only lead us to boredom. »


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Picabia, Olga Kokoschka, Picasso and Germaine Everling, circa 1927


Picabia with her portrait of Gertrude Stein, Biligin, 1933

After a trip to Barcelona in the summer of 1927 with Olga Mohler and Lorenzo, the Château de Mai was transformed into a very lively “château à trois” until 1933, when Picabia moved in with Olga on his new yacht, Horizons II, cleverly anchored opposite the Casino in the port of Cannes. Figures from Romanesque frescoes from Catalonia now appear in his paintings, precursors of a new era, that of “transparencies”.

When they were presented in Paris in October 1928 in the Galerie Théophile Briant, the film critic Gaston Ravel spoke of them as “sur-impressionism”: he referred to the simultaneity of superimposed film images, to an impression of “ third dimension without recourse to perspective”, as Duchamp later described them. The subjects often have as their starting point classical figures of Botticelli or Piero della Francesca, or even ancient statuary and bear titles borrowed from mythology or the Bible, sometimes quite simply invented: Minos, Mélibée, Adam and Eve , Judith, Lodola, Ridens, for example. His iconographic sources are printed reproductions: "My father had a huge trunk full of art books in his studio" says his son, Lorenzo.


This new style blossomed as Picabia entered a new period in her private life. Here again, we understand the importance of the “woman” or of the love affair itself. A rupture then accompanies another: first of all, it was Gabrielle Buffet, a brilliant catalyst at the time of the rupture with Impressionism and the marriage with Modernism; later, Germaine Everling, irresistible partner of Picabia in her social life in Paris during the Dada adventure, and in her retirement towards the South; now it's Olga Molher, a more than understanding companion who shares this fascinating adventure  of the last twenty-five years of Picabia's life. He lives with her a real “honeymoon”. It was during this period that his Neo-Romantic transparencies developed: once again, his art reflected his life. 


The year 1930 is the occasion of a commemorative retrospective organized by Léonce Rosenberg in Paris “30 years of painting” which includes many transparencies. This is a characteristic feature of Picabia whose opinions are constantly changing: Léonce Rosenberg, whom he had vilified in the days of Dadaism, is now his main dealer. This one praises the work of the artist, in the preface to the catalog of the exhibition: “transparencies are the association between the visible and the invisible[.. . it is this notion of time, added to that of space, which constitutes precisely the doctrine of your art. Beyond instantaneity, towards infinity, such is your ideal. »

In 1933, the inevitable happened: Germaine Everling broke with Picabia for good and left the Château de Mai (which was sold two years later). After this worldly and eventful period, Picabia leads a more solitary life and works intensely.



Picabia and Olga Mohler, 1935

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Picabia on a bike during the war, Golfe-Juan

In 1935, he produced a set of canvases representing neo-classical allegories for an exhibition in Chicago, most of which he later destroyed.

The following years were marked by great diversity in Picabia's work: naturalist and figurative paintings; new overlays in dominant green tones; landscapes reminiscent of his Impressionist and Fauve period; forays into geometric abstraction, and finally a tribute to the Spanish Civil War with the powerful painting,The Spanish Revolutionof 1937.


Faced with the Second World War, his attitude remained just as individualistic and provocative, to the point that his “dada spirit” and his apolitical positions created difficulties for him during the Liberation.


From 1939, the troubles multiply. Picabia's lifestyle has shrunk considerably:

the yacht and the cars are replaced by a small apartment in Golfe Juan and a bicycle. And for the first time, he lived mainly on the income he received from the sale of his paintings.


In 1940 he married Olga Mohler

(he had been divorced from Gabrielle Buffet since 1930 and had never married Germaine Everling)



Picabia with Sizou, 


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Picabia et  Lorenzo

(his son with Germaine Everling), 1941

  The last years spent on the Côte d'Azur saw the birth of a series of paintings of strong realism and false academicism. During these difficult years, Picabia, despite his “incorrigible pessism”, clung to life by painting nudes and other subjects of popular imagery. But this time, he finds his sources in the black and white photographs of erotic magazines of the thirties.


"My painting is more and more the image of my life and of life, but a life that does not want and cannot look at the world in its greedy and monstrous [...] Everything that has moral summer in art is dead, fortunately! it is the only service that the cataclysm which surrounds us has rendered. » 


He paints pictures likeWomen with a bull-dog, Woman with a snake, Montparnasse, Two nudesor evencalf worshipandPierrot hanged. In response to those who claim that the artist's motives for painting nudes are purely commercial, Olga Picabia asserts that:

“Francis always painted what he wanted, long before the merchant from Algiers, or elsewhere, arrived to buy his paintings. »


During the same period in Cannes, he exhibited “pocket paintings” with the sculptor Michel Sima (1942) and the following year he appeared in an exhibition in the company - very unexpected - of Bonnard and Matisse.

His provocative behavior with regard to the collaboration as well as with regard to the Resistance earned him, as well as his wife, to be involved in the “settling of scores” of the post-war period. It was during this difficult period that he suffered his first cerebral hemorrhage.


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Picabia's studio in Paris, 1945

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Picabia in his studio, Paris, 1949

In 1945, Picabia finally returned to Paris. He and Olga move into the old family home and settle in his grandfather's workshop. Trying to forget her recent disappointments, Picabia reconnects with her old friends from before the war. Henri Goetz and his wife Christine Boumeester, friends from the Midi, visit him every Sunday, accompanied by young abstract artists: Henri Nouveau, Francis Bot, Hartung, Bryen, Soulages, Mathieu, Ubac, Atlan. Still full of resources, at sixty-five as before, Picabia changed course again, abandoning the popular realism of war for a personal form of abstraction. He exhibits regularly in Parisian galleries and in important salons of the young avant-garde such as the Salon des Surindépendants and the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. 


Picabia then resumes writing.Thalassa in the desertappeared in 1945. During the following years, he published works in a more bitter and disillusioned tone with his friend Pierre-André Benoît, publisher in Alès. He writes extensively during his annual stay in Rubigen, Switzerland with Olga's family. In Paris, he is still one of the famous regulars at the “Bal Nègre” and other Parisian cabarets, faithful to his pre-war way of life. For Picabia, the “Eve” and “Tabarin” cabarets are well worth the Opera and the Comédie Française, institutions which are venerated in France and which he considers as lively as the cemetery of Montmartre.

Eagerly exploring the possibilities of a final abstract period, Picabia painted important works such asBlack Ball, in homage to his favorite nightclub, Danger of Strength, Happiness of Blindness, andKalinga. The spring of 1949 saw the peak of his long career: a monumental retrospective, “50 years of pleasure”, was organized by the Galerie René Drouin. The catalog is presented in the form of a unique number of491, written by his friends and edited by Michel Tapié.



Picabia with Michel Sima,     Paris, around 1951


Olga and Francis Picabia with

the portraits of his maternal grandmother and his mother,

circa 1951

Encouraged by his friends, driven by his own curiosity and his need to go further into the unknown, Picabia produced a series of minimalist paintings composed of dots: this is the final reduction of his abstract paintings. The “Points” were exhibited at the Galerie des Deux Iles in 1949.


Between 1950 and 1951, Picabia had several important exhibitions: in France, in New York at the Rose Fried Gallery and at the Galerie Apollo in Brussels.


In 1951, he painted his last works, among whichLiving painting,Villejuif, as well as six tables, for the days of the week andThe earth is round. They were exhibited at the Galerie Colette Allendy in December 1952 accompanied by a catalog containing 7 facsimiles of letters of homage from Breton, Cocteau, Bryen, Van Heeckeren, Seuphor, JH Lévesque and Michel Perrin.


In the years to come, Simone Collinet, Breton's first wife, became Picabia's principal merchant.


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November 1952

It will soon be the last journey of ce “Christophe Colomb de l’art” , as Jean Arp had nicknamed him. At the end of 1951, a paralyzing arteriosclerosis definitively deprived him of his vital source, painting. The ultimate “dissolution”, thus described by Picabia himself, arrives on November 30, 1953. On December 4, at the Montmartre cemetery, André Breton pays a last tribute to his lifelong partner: 


"Francis [...] your painting was the succession - often desperate, neronian - of the most beautiful celebrations that a man has ever given to himself [...] A work based on the sovereignty of caprice, on the refusal to follow, entirely centered on freedom, even on displeasing[...] Only a very great aristocrat of mind could dare what you dared. »

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