Francis Picabia - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • A pioneer and key member of both the Dada and Surrealist movements, Francis Picabia was most acclaimed for his use of fragmented and abstract imagery, never fully adhering to one specific artistic style. A portrait of his muse and assumed lover, Suzanne Romain, Suzanne, circa 1945-1946, depicts a dragon-like and distorted interpretation of a female figure. The figure does not commit to a single direction, as her body swirls from left to right, softer at the bottom and gradually sharper moving up the composition. The figure seems to be trapped between piercing triangular shapes which adorn the vertical edges of the work, painted in luminous orange.  The blue-green hues radiating from within the female’s figure offer a striking contrast to the outer borders of the work. This work was included in some of the artist’s seminal exhibitions, including at Kunsthalle, Basel the same year it was finished in 1946.


    Throughout his career, Picabia's representation of the female body underwent significant changes. The artist swayed between traditional and romanticized depictions of canonized beauty, as seen in his body of works from the 1930s, to the polarizing and taboo styles of the avant-garde. At the time when Picabia created Suzanne at mid-century, the artist’s style was more abstract, shifting away from traditional figuration and opting instead for more rigid and non-conforming aesthetic.

    “I absorb impressions in my brain. I am in no hurry to put them on canvas. I let them remain in my brain, and then when the spirit of creation is at flood tide, I improvise my pictures as a musician improvises music.” —Francis Picabia

    With the emergence of Cubism and other avant-garde movements in the early 20th century, Picabia's approach to depicting female figures vacillated between realistic versus symbolic and interpretive. Graphic lines and shapes define works such as Udnie (Young American Girl, The Dance), 1913 and the present work, Suzanne, 1945-1946, while other portraits of Suzanne and other models were more figurative. 


    Francis Picabia, Suzanne Romain, 1943. Artwork: © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


    As one of the fathers of Dadaism, Picabia was deeply interested in representing radical ambiguity rather than aesthetic beauty, and playing on the notions of “anti-art." This preoccupation can be seen in the present work. The relationship between Picabia and Suzanne Romain has consistently been a topic of speculation. While the exact nature of their relationship is unclear, it is known that Romain was a frequent subject of Picabia's paintings. Emphasizing this ambiguity, Suzanne evokes a sense of intrigue, playing outside the confines of 1945 post-war society, and daring to shatter conformist ideologies of aesthetic beauty.

    • Provenance

      Galerie des 4 Mouvements, Paris (acquired by 1973)
      Galeria Joan Prats, Barcelona (acquired by 1985)
      Jean Louis Picard, Paris, November 24, 1995, lot 32
      Private Collection, Switzerland and France
      Dada Art Limited, Abu Dhabi
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Denise René, Francis Picabia: peintures sur-irréalistes, April 26–May 20, 1946, no. 7
      Paris, Galerie René Drouin, 491, 50 ans de plaisir, March 4–26, 1949, no. 90
      Madrid, Salas Pablo Ruiz Picasso del Ministerio de Cultura; Barcelona, Centre Cultura de la Caixa de Pensions, Francis Picabia, Exposición antológica, January, 29 1985–May 26, 1986, no. 171, pp. 220, 371 (illustrated, p. 220)
      Santiago de Compostella, Museo do Pobo Galego; La Coruña, Palacio Municipal de Exposición Kiosco Alfonso, Francis Picabia, o soño español, June–August 1996, no. 52 (illustrated)
      Zurich, Galerie Hauser & Wirth,Francis Picabia, Fleurs de chair, fleurs d’âme – Nus, Transparences, Tableaux abstraits, May 30–July 19, 1997, pp. 50, 128 (illustrated, p. 50; dated 1950)
      Paris, Piltzer Gallery, Francis Picabia, September 25–October 20, 1997
      Berlin, Galerie Brockstedt; Hamburg, Galerie Brockstedt, Francis Picabia, October 25, 1997–February 1998, no. 19, n.p. (illustrated)
      Vence, Galerie Beaubourg, Château Notre-Dame des Fleurs, Francis Picabia: Classique et merveilleux, July 6–October 10, 1998, pp. 168, 169, 194, 195, 225 (illustrated, pp. 169, 195)
      Tokyo, Isetan Museum; Osaka Kinetsu Museum of Art, Francis Picabia, August 12, 1999–February 9, 2000, no. 70, p. 131 (illustrated)
      New York, Jack Shainman Gallery, Picabia / Man Ray / Duchamp: Trilogy, October 10–November 15, 2003
      Santa Monica, Patrick Painter, Francis Picabia: Paintings and Works on Paper, May 2009
      Paris, Galerie Michel Vidal; New York, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Picabia: Funny Guy, May 2009–January 23, 2010, n.p. (illustrated)
      New York, Michael Werner, Francis Picabia: Late Paintings, November 16, 2011–January 14, 2012, no. 26, n.p. (illustrated)

    • Literature

      "Picabia in der Kunsthalle Basel," Basler Nachrichten, no. 39, Basel, January 26-27, 1946
      J. Perard, "A travers les expositions," Calvacade, Paris, May 10, 1946, n.p.
      Colline, "Un Entretien avec Francis Picabia," Kunstzeitung (Journal des arts), no. 3, Zurich, November 1945, pp. 50-51
      Denys Chevalier, "Picabia," Arts: beaux-arts, littérature, spectacles, no. 67, Paris, May 10, 1946, p. 2
      Denys Chevalier, "Picabia (Galerie Denise René)," Renaissances: Revue mensuelle d'information et de culture, Paris, June 1946, pp. 161-162
      "Francis Picabia Exhibition," Kunstzeitung (Journal of the Arts), no. 5-6, Zurich, January–February 1946, pp. 20-21
      Olga Mohler Picabia, Francis Picabia, Turin, 1975
      William A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, no. 398, pp. 262, 294, 361 (illustrated p. 361)
      Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia, Paris, 1985, fig. 1006, no. 873, pp. 449, 466, 535 (illustrated p. 466; dated 1948)
      Picabia 1879–1953, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1988, fig. II, p. 37 (illustrated in the studio in its preliminary state)
      Arnauld Pierre, Francis Picabia: La peinture sans aura, Paris, 2002, no. 135, pp. 277, 279, 329 (illustrated p. 279)
      Beverley Calté, ed., Album Picabia. Olga Mohler Picabia, Brussels, 2016, n.p. (illustrated and illustrated in the studio in its preliminary state)
      Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zurich, 2016, fig. 38, p. 337 (illustrated in the studio in its preliminary state)
      Beverley Calté, William A. Camfield, Candace Clements, and Arnauld Pierre, Francis Picabia. Catalogue Raisonné vol. IV 1940-1953, Belgium, 2022, no. 1893

    • 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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signed "Francis Picabia" lower left; titled "SUZANNE" lower right
oil on board
35 5/8 x 28 3/8 in. (90.5 x 72.1 cm)
Painted circa 1945–1946, this work will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Comité Picabia.

Full Cataloguing

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $203,200

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023