Francis Picabia - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Sans titre is an evocative work by Francis Picabia that perfectly captures the audacious vision of an artist whose career Marcel Duchamp famously described as a “kaleidoscopic series of art experiences.”i  Created in 1938, it belongs to the discrete series of gouache paintings from that year that feature the boldly colored outlines of superimposed motifs against solid black and blue backgrounds, including Superimposed Heads, 1938, which was included in the artist’s acclaimed retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2016-2017. Picabia with these works once expands upon the tenets of his seminal Transparencies, a body of work distinguished by its combination of simultaneously layered images, while pushing his practice forward to new heights with a bold painterly idiom in which form and color are distilled to their most essential. In Sans titre, a trio of horse heads are dynamically superimposed, creating a vivid vignette that is enlivened by a confetti red dots of impasto. Looking at the work, one cannot help but think of Sigmar Polke’s fantastical Stadtbild paintings from 1968-1969, highlighting the profound influence Picabia had on a generation of contemporary artists to come.

    "He is a true maverick within the fabric of modernism." —Anne UmlandSans titre clearly exemplifies Picabia’s fascination with layered compositions and the interplay of pictorial surfaces, as evidenced in the Transparency series he began after moving to the French Riviera in 1925. Around the same time, Picabia began drawing inspiration from the Classical world, Renaissance art, and the Catalan Romanesque. This interest is also evident in the present work: the underlying horse heads reveal classical antecedents, while the superimposed head  is derived from a detail of a Catalan Romanequse fresco from the church of  Sant Joan de Boí, which Picabia would have been familiar with from Joaquín Folch i Torres’s illustrated guidebook that the artist acquired on this visit to the City Museum in Barcelona in 1927.


    In the same year that Picabia created the present work, he also painted realistic portraits and impressionist landscapes–truly highlighting Picabia’s tendency to relentlessly change styles and challenge convention in a manner that perhaps defined his credo, “If you want to have clean ideas, change them like shirt.”ii As Zdenek Felix has explained, “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.”iii 

    MoMA curator Anne Umland on Francis Picabia


    i Marcel Duchamp, “Francis Picabia,” in Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920, New Haven, 1950, p. 4
    ii Francis Picabia, 1921, n.p.; translation adjusted from Picabia, I Am a Beautiful Monster: Poetry, Prose, and Provocation, Cambridge, 2007, p. 279
    iii Zdenek Felix, ed., Francis Picabia: The Late Works 1933-1953, Hatje, 1998, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Germaine Everling-Picabia, Cannes
      Villa Robioni, Nice, December 28, 1956, lot 3
      Private Collection
      Rameau, Versailles, March 19, 1961, lot 88 (titled Chevaux sur fond noir)
      Galerie Mony Calatchi, Paris
      Galerie 1900-2000, Paris
      Waddington Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 2005)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Exhibited

      Mandelieu-la-Napoule, Château Historique de la Napoule, Henry Clews Art Foundation, Picabia, les artistes au soleil et Jean-Gabriel Domergue, September 14 – October 14, 1956, no. 22, n.p. (titled Chevaux)

    • Literature

      William A. Camfield, Beverley Calté, Candace Clements, Arnauld Pierre and Pierre Calté, eds., Francis Picabia, Catalogue Raisonné, Volume III, 1927-1930, Brussels and New Haven, 2019, no. 1548, pp. 403-404 (illustrated, p. 403)

    • 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.  

      View More Works


Sans titre

signed "Francis Picabia" lower edge; inscribed "19" on the reverse; further signed and inscribed by Germaine E. Picabia on a paper certificate affixed to the reverse
oil on cardboard
framed 17 3/8 x 10 3/4 in. (44.1 x 27.3 cm)
Painted circa 1938.

Full Cataloguing

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $226,800

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020