Francis Picabia - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Paris
    Galerie Art Contemporain, Paris
    Private Collection, Pontarlier (acquired from the above in 1983)
    Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above in 2007)

  • Exhibited

    Musée de Grenoble, Francis Picabia: les nus et la méthode, October 17, 1997 - January 3, 1998, p. 30 (illustrated)
    Paris, Galerie Michel Vidal; New York, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Francis Picabia: Funny Guy, May, 2009 - January, 2010, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Exhibiting the expansive scope of the artist’s late works, Francis Picabia’s Untitled (Femme Nue) circa 1938-1940 portrays a standing female figure against a richly pigmented abstract background. During these years, the iconoclastic Picabia produced a series of female nudes based on black and white photographs from erotic magazines. A pioneer in recycling photographic images, Picabia was fascinated with the dichotomy between low and high art, combining popular culture imagery with the traditional medium of oil painting.

    “His output during the last twenty years before his death bears witness to the restless vision of an artist who was not willing to bow to the dictates of any single style, preferring instead a spirited, ironic, provocative visual language which regarded stylistic change and variation as a crucial principle of artistic and spiritual creativity.” (Zdenek Felix, Francis Picabia: The Late Works 1933-1953, Hatje, 1998).

    Exhibited at the Musée de Grenoble as well as prominent New York and Paris galleries, Untitled (Femme Nue) serves as a foundational exploration for Picabia that precedes his distinguished female nudes of the 1940s.

    Evident in the illuminated golden background against the deep amber and indigo tones grounding the figure, Picabia’s clever handling of light and color unearths the nude from the canvas. As the French writer Carole Boulbès said about the significant process of reproducing black and white photographs in oils and color: the painter must “make an intense study of the light conditions in the photograph because the different grey tones have to be translated into color… this method plus black outlines and the use of complementary colors to intensify the contrasts creates a powerful effect.”

    While the use of photography was in no way new to Picabia’s work, Untitled (Femme Nue) represents one of the first times he used erotic magazines in his work, a technique that dramatically altered the relationship between photography and his painting. Faithfully copying the model’s pose with arms draped over the head and soft gaze peering passively to the side, Untitled (Femme Nue) reimagines a 1937 photograph published in Paris Magazine by the artist’s highly celebrated friend, Man Ray. The lighting in this photograph showcases the model’s body—the curve of her hips, breasts and waist—without the model’s acknowledgement of the viewer’s presence, allowing onlookers to gaze from a safe, academic distance.

    Untitled (Femme Nue), on the other hand, illustrates Jacques Lacan’s idea about the unsettling feeling created by objects that not only look back at the viewer, but also trigger anxiety. Though Picabia’s model never makes direct eye contact, her body is not only cloaked in shadows created by the contrast of light pastel yellows and deep blue, but she is also surrounded by an obscure distorted environment resembling either a threatening landscape or hostile industrial wasteland. Due to the inaccessibility of the figure’s body and cryptic setting, Untitled (Femme Nue) tempts the viewer to look while firmly rejecting their gaze. Two of the leading figures in the New York Dada movement, Picabia and Man Ray often looked to each other for inspiration: “They shared a language of their own invention; however, each could speak the language and it didn’t belong to any single one of them.” (George Baker, T.J. Demos, Kim Knowles and Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, “Graceful Enigmas,” Tate, 2008)

  • 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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Untitled (Femme nue)

signed "Francis Picabia" lower right
oil on newspaper on cardboard backed by wood
28 3/4 x 20 1/2 in. (73 x 52.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1938-1940.
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Picabia and it will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Comité.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST