Francis Picabia - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short

      “The pictures Picabia was painting in March 1942 were so precise, with colors so true to life, that the acerbic critics exclaimed ‘But this is photography!’” – Michel Perrin 




  • Picabia in the 1940s

    Executed during the beginning of the 1940s after relocating to the South of France, Portrait de Femme belongs to Francis Picabia’s series of figurative, sexualized depictions of women which has bewildered art historians for decades. Often using photographs found in softcore pornographic magazines, movie star picture postcards, and nightclub advertisements as source imagery, the artist rendered these women in a kitsch-forward, realist style which formed a sharp contrast to the machine drawings and transparencies that preoccupied him prior. These works, created during the height of World War II, epitomized Picabia’s tendency to relentlessly change styles and challenge convention, perplexing viewers and critics alike. Today, Portrait de Femme and this unique series are considered some of the first postmodern paintings, presaging not only the distinct language of Eric Fischl and John Currin but also the interest in authorship and popular culture that fascinated Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons.

    For these photo-based works such as Portrait de Femme, Picabia scoured postcards depicting
    actresses and softcore pornographic magazines
    including Paris Sex Appeal and Plais Plaisir for imagery. In some cases these two sources were ambiguously combined, such as in Portrait de Femme, which resembles a 1930s headshot that has been dramatically sexualized due to implied nudity and an alluring stare. After procuring the photographs, the artist appropriated the original image using his own idiosyncratic technique, which combined a smooth application of paint with a looser, more expressionistic approach for background spaces.




     Various covers of Paris Sex Appeal magazine.  


    Picabia’s women that form this series were so realistic that the artist’s friend, Michel Perrin, recalled, “The pictures Picabia was painting in March 1942 were so precise, with colors so true to life, that the acerbic critics exclaimed ‘But this is photography!’”[i] This photorealist quality, combining both imitation and parody, betrayed an interest with mass media, popular culture, and authenticity which would become central to the work of multiple generations of artists, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Jeff Koons.

     In the 1980s, Picabia’s series of photo-based works was shown in several exhibitions across Europe, and during this period art historian Robert Rosenblum interpreted the pictures as “a rebellious dissatisfaction with idées reçues of modern art’s hierarchy.”[ii] Due to this international exposure during a widespread revival of figurative painting, this body of work influenced numerous artists, such as Eric Fishl and David Salle, and later, John Currin.

    Roy Lichtenstein, Girl with Hair Ribbon, 1965. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Artwork © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

    John Currin, Untitled, 1998. Private Collection,
    Artwork © John Currin

    One of the artist’s signature jabs at the art establishment, this series subverted accepted notions of modernism, blurring distinctions between “high” and “low” culture. Lawrence Alloway elucidated that these works, including Portrait de Femme, coalesce “the odd compound of imitation and parody, of accepting influences and caricaturing them…As so often in Picabia, it is hard to decide whether we are looking at a botched imitation, a brutal parody, or a subtle imagination which operates in a personal territory between loyal copying and ironic parody.”[iii]

    [i] Michel Perrin, quoted in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, p. 423.
    [ii] Robert Rosenblum, quoted in Michèle Cone, Francis Picabia, exh. cat., Michael Werner Galley, New York, 1983, pp. 226-27.
    [iii] Lawrence Alloway, “London Letter,” Art International, III, no. 9, 1959, p. 24.
  • Picabia's Women

  • David Salle on Picabia

    “Kasper [König] had installed a pretty large room with paintings from the late ‘30s and ‘40s, as well as a few from the ‘50s, mostly the so-called kitsch paintings: nudes with dogs, nudes with eroticized flowers, bullfighters, mythological-looking animals, which were all but unknown at the time. They had simply never been seen by artists of my generation, nor, I got the feeling, by anyone else. I was very taken by these paintings; I felt an immediate connection to the sensibility.

    Something about the style—so lurid and melodramatic and full of unlikely juxtapositions, not to mention the somewhat ham-handed way of painting, with its chiseled brushstrokes alternating with little curlicues, and the unabashedly eroticized magazine imagery presented front and center—all struck a chord in me. I had never before seen painting as untethered to notions of taste, or even intention; there was no way of knowing how to take them, even whether to take them seriously at all. The work was so un-defended—it was like a delirious free-fall. The freedom in those pictures buoyed me up. It was an exhilarating feeling.” - David Salle



    David Salle, Age of Anxiety, 2012. Private Collection, Artwork © David Salle/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY



    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Artcurial, Paris, October 20, 2007, lot 38
      Collections Aristophil
      Aguttes, Paris, April 1, 2019, lot 234
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Francis Picabia

      Few members of the 20th Century avant-garde are as paradoxical as Francis Picabia. Though best known today for his work as a Dadaist, his oeuvre is characterized by the many disparate styles he switched embrace over the course of his fifty-year career. He first garnered attention for late Post-Impressionist works done in the style of Paul Signac but later assumed a Cubistic style as he participated in the advent of abstraction. Picabia then developed a more radical aesthetic through his friendships with leading members of the avant-garde like Marcel Duchamp, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Man Ray, creating mechanistic anatomies and Dadaist works that integrate text and refined abstract forms. He flirted next with Surrealism, creating dreamlike strata of layered imagery and later experimented with intentionally garish works based on found photos before rounding out his career by returning to expressions of pure abstraction. The only constant in Picabia’s career was his unwillingness to remain the same. 

      Picabia’s work has been widely celebrated during and after his lifetime with several significant retrospectives, including a landmark 2016 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Picabia’s work is held in the permanent collections of Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Tate, London, and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris.  

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Portrait de femme

signed “Francis Picabia” lower right
oil on panel
15 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (39.4 x 29.2 cm)
Painted circa 1941-1942.

This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Comité Picabia under no. 2934.

Full Cataloguing

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $350,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020