Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A SWISS COLLECTION
Francis Picabia (1879-1953)

Jésus et le dauphin (Jesus and the Dolphin)

Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
Jésus et le dauphin (Jesus and the Dolphin)
signed 'Francis Picabia' (lower right)
gouache and pencil on board
41½ x 29 7/8 in. (105.5 x 75.8 cm.)
Executed circa 1928
Madame H. Saint-Maurice, Paris.
Private collection, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner before 1992.
C. Estienne, 'De Braque à Picabia' in Combat, 4 June 1947 (illustrated).
O. Mohler, Francis Picabia. Notes de Maurizio Fagiolo, Turin, 1975, p. 142 (illustrated).
W. A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, no. 307, p. 292 (illustrated).
M. L. Borràs, Picabia, New York, 1985, no. 491, p. 522 (illustrated fig. 659, p. 350).
'Picabia 1879-1953' in Découvrons l'art - XXe siècle, Paris, 1996, no. 40, p. 62 (illustrated).
A. Pierre, Francis Picabia. La peinture sans aura, Paris, 2002, p. 219 (illustrated p. 218).
Paris, Galerie Théophile Briant, Francis Picabia, October - November 1928, no. 7.
Paris, Galerie Colette Allendy, Francis Picabia, 1947.
Takanawa, The Museum of Modern Art, Francis Picabia, July - September 1984, no. 41 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, The Seibu Museum of Art, September - October 1984.
Madrid, Salas Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Francis Picabia 1879-1953: exposición antológica, January - March 1985, no. 86 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Barcelona, Fundació Caixa de Pensiones, April - May 1985.
Paris, Didier Imbert Fine Art, Picabia, April - July 1990, no. 40 (illustrated).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

Lot Essay

'It is the past that still has to be explored,... I mean the past in so far as it is mysterious. And the hidden corners of our mystery can only be explored if we are prepared to banish all influence, all hereditary or contemporary convention; good and bad, high and low curve and straight line, infinite and finite, space and time' (Francis Picabia quoted in Maurice Nadeau, Historia del Surrealismo, Barcelona, 1972, p. 209).

With its simultaneous depiction of Jesus/Dionysus, a dolphin, a vine, a woman's face and a panther set amidst a starry landscape dotted with grapes, Jesus and the Dolphin is one of the first and best known of the 'transparency' series of paintings that Picabia began to make in the late 1920s. These 'transparencies' are so-called because of their many layers of imagery which simultaneously combine to create an illusionistic and seemingly impenetrable allegory bearing all the characteristics of a mystic vision or dream. These paintings were in part derived from the artist's Cubist and Orphist period, but Picabia had also experimented with such layered simultaneity in the film Entr'acte as well as in some of his 'monster' paintings in the late 1920s. While Marcel Duchamp's reaction to these paintings was to describe them as 'a third dimension without resorting to perspective', it was primarily within the context of the cinema that these extraordinary works were first interpreted (Marcel Duchamp, quoted in Maria Luisa Borràs, Francis Picabia, London, 1985, p. 337).

Listed as number 7 in the Galerie Théophile Briant exhibition of these works that opened in October 1928, Jesus and the Dolphin is one of the first of these works about which the film critic Gaston Ravel was later to exclaim excitedly that they were 'a miracle! an enchantment and an homage', 'involuntary perhaps, rendered to the cinema' (Gaston Ravel quoted in Willam Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life and Times, New York, 1979, p. 233). Similarly excited by this new development in Picabia's work was the dealer Léonce Rosenberg who was so impressed that, in spite of having been reviled and ridiculed by Picabia during the artist's Dada period, subsequently offered him an arrangement with his gallery and commissioned a group of similar works for his wife's apartments.

Drawing on the art of the ancient past in a metaphysical sense and imbuing it with eternal presence, and as a metaphor for the timelessness of the present, Picabia in his 'transparencies', like de Chirico, anticipated the technique of appropriation that would distinguish much postmodernist art in the later twentieth century. In doing so he found, he said, that these paintings gave him a new and exciting freedom that offered and allowed 'all his instincts' to run a 'free course' and ultimately producing a 'resemblance of my interior desires.' (Picabia quoted in William Camfield, op. cit., p. 233-234).

For Picabia, in the late 1920s, the new freedom offered by the simultaneous and seemingly non-hierarchical imagery of the transparencies was important. 'My present feeling as regards aesthetics comes from the boredom produced by the sight of pictures that seem to me to be congealed on their immobile surfaces, far removed from anything human', he said. 'This third dimension, which is not a product of chiaroscuro, these transparencies with their secret depth, enable me to express my inner intentions with a certain degree of verisimilitude. When I lay the foundation stone, I want it to remain under my picture and not on top of it' (Francis Picabia cited in Maria Luisa Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, p. 340).

Executed during a period of extreme productivity while living on the Mediterranean coast, the majority of Picabia's transparencies, like Jesus and the Dolphin, refer to classical themes and conjure what is perhaps an appropriate sense of an antique idyll. Indeed, the 'foundation stone' that Picabia mentioned with reference to these works was almost always ancient masterpiece from the classical past that would serve as the basis for the resultant transparency's composition. Jesus and the Dolphin is based on an amalgam of classical images all seemingly drawn from the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples - a favourite source of inspiration for Picabia during this period. The central figure of 'Jesus', looking also like Dionysus or Heracles, is seemingly drawn from Annibale Carracci's Pietà of 1599 in the museum. While the dolphin derives from the famous statue of Eros and a Dolphin, also in the Naples museum, so too does the panther, the figure of which originates in a cameo of Dionysus and his panther also owned by the Museo di Capodimonte. Layered over one another in a mock transparent-like way until multiple layers of reality and illusion become visible, the ultimate meaning of the work appears to be an evocative confusing of the mythologies of Jesus and Dionysus, wine and delirium, sea and sky in a new and original way.

In a statement about the Transparencies that Picabia made for the introduction of these works at his exhibition at Léonce Rosenberg's gallery in December 1930, Picabia humorously suggested that these works were fiercely personal visions expressive of an 'inner desire' and ultimately, to be read and understood only by himself alone. 'I worked for months and years making use of nature, copying it' he wrote. 'Now it is my nature that I copy, that I try to express. I was once feverish with over calculated inventions, now it is my instinct that guides me... these transparencies with their corner of oubliettes permit me to express for myself the resemblance of my interior desires...I want a painting where all my instincts may have a free course...Those who have said ...that "I do not enter the line of account" are right. I take no part in no addition and recount my life to myself alone.' (Francis Picabia: Introduction to the Exposition Francis Picabia, at Léonce Rosenberg's gallery, Paris, December 9-31, 1930).

In another article written in 1929 however, Picabia had also hinted that in the classicism of these works he was continuing to pursue a personal ideal which operated in direct contrast to what he saw as the vulgar collective aims of the avant-garde artists (specifically Breton's Surrealists) whom he had left in Paris preferring, to their chagrin, to lead a life of comparative luxury amongst celebrities and playboys on the French Riviera. 'One must foster the birth of the ideal and not forget that everything will pass away' he wrote, 'everything will be transformed, except for three lines, three brushstrokes or three arpeggios. It is in the open air, far from the herd that wallows comfortably in the muck of their own sties, that it is still possible to believe in a limpid life, in the beauty of the sun' (Francis Picabia, 'Avenue Moche' in BIFUR No. 2, 3 March, 1929, pp. 27 & 29).

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