2 More


signed ‘Francis Picabia’ (lower right)
Ripolin and oil on canvas
36 1⁄8 x 28 7⁄8 in. (91.9 x 73.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1924-1925
Tableaux, Aquarelles et Dessins par Francis Picabia Appartenant à M. Marcel Duchamp, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8 March 1926, lot 75.
Hugues Simon, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
(Probably) Simone Collinet-Breton, Paris.
Robert Lebel, Paris, by 1959, and thence by descent to the present owner.
M.-L. Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, no. 387, pp. 288, 289, 296, 302 & 518 (illustrated pl. 548, p. 302).
J. Pierre, ‘Francis Picabia et le surréalisme’, in Pleine Marge, no. 26, Paris, December 1997, p. 144 (illustrated).
W. A. Camfield, B. Calté, C. Clements, A. Pierre & A. Verdier, Francis Picabia, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1915-1927, Brussels, 2016, no. 857, p. 379 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Picasso, Picabia, La peinture au défi, Aix-en-Provence, 2018, p. 55 (illustrated fig. 1).
Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe, Malarstwo francuskie od Gauguina do dnia dzisiejszego, April – May 1959, no. 124, p. 32 (illustrated; titled ‘Bal’).
London, Matthiesen Gallery, Francis Picabia, October – November 1959, no. 39.
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Picabia, March – May 1962, no. 46.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Le Surréalisme, sources, histoire, affinités, 1964, no. 256.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Dada, Auesstellung zum 50-jährigen Jubiläum, October – November 1966, no. 219, p. 86; this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, November 1966 – January 1967.
Strasbourg, L'Ancienne Douane, Lart en Europe autour de 1925, May – September 1970, no. 166, p. 170.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Francis Picabia: Portrait de l'Auteur par lui-même, January – March 1976, no. 152, p. 188 (illustrated p. 136).
Paris, Artcurial, Au temps du “Bœuf sur le Toit”, 1918-1928, May – July 1981, no. 185, p. 111 (illustrated p. 57; dated 'circa 1924').

Brought to you by

Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

Held in the same family collection for the last sixty-five years, Veglione is among the finest of Francis Picabia’s early monstres paintings, a celebrated series of vibrant, tongue-in-cheek compositions that occupied the artist for several years through the mid-1920s. Embracing a striking new vocabulary of bold colours, vibrant patterns and playful figuration, these experimental works stood in stark contrast to the artist’s linear ‘mechanomorphs’ and silhouette paintings which had predominated his work for close to a decade. Dubbed Les monstres by the artist’s close friend and colleague Marcel Duchamp, these radical paintings were intentionally shocking and subversive, distorting popular imagery from the contemporary mass-media as well as more traditional subjects, in what would prove to be an open challenge to the very concept of fine art.
At this time, Picabia was living in the South of France, having recently decided to spend a portion of his inheritance building a grand chateau overlooking Mougins. Drawing up the plans himself, the artist and his partner Germain Everling took up residence at a hotel in Cannes while the house was under construction. Renouncing the artistic establishment in Paris, Picabia fully embraced his new life on the French Riviera, enjoying the pleasures of daily visits to the beach, the raucous atmosphere of the local casinos, as well as his frequent jaunts along the coast in his prized motor-car. Describing his life in the South, Picabia wrote: ‘I play baccarat and I lose, but more and more I love this empty and sick atmosphere of the casinos’ (quoted in A. Verdier, ‘Art = Sun = Destruction,’ in A. Umland and C. Hug, eds., Francis Picabia: Our Heads are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 173). Although he later derided the environment on the Côte d’Azur as having given in to ‘the absolute reign of ersatz,’ he revelled in the shallow hedonism and empty materialism of the place, drawing his subjects from the burgeoning population of nouveaux riches and their opportunistic hangers-on, relishing in the act of unmasking and then mercilessly skewering their hypocrisies and pretensions (quoted in S. Cochran, Duchamp Man Ray Picabia, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2008, p. 146).
In the winter of 1924-25 Picabia began working on a trio of paintings in which he deliberately took aim at the socialites who celebrated carnival in Cannes during the winter season. Executed in the cheap brand of household enamel paint known as Ripolin, these paintings were based on scenes from the veglioni or masked balls of Cannes which, as photographs and drawings published in the February 1925 edition of the magazine Saison de Cannes show, were especially decadent and lavish at this time. Clearly, the idea had been percolating in Picabia’s imagination for several months before he embarked on the suite of paintings – in a letter to Pierre de Massot from early 1924, he proclaimed: ‘I’m making pictures of Carnival, of lovers, confetti pictures, in which Ripolin evokes the cheap glitter of fake silk’ (quoted in W.A. Camfield, B. and P. Calté, C. Clements, A. Pierre and A. Verdier, Francis Picabia: Catalogue raisonné, 1915-1927, Paris, 2016, vol. II, p. 376). The resulting works – Mardi-gras (Le baiser), Mi-Carême, and the present Veglione (nos. 855-857) – invoke the heady atmosphere of these revelries. Rendered in rich, gaudy colour and a loose, free-flowing and open style, these radically new paintings were intended as both a mockery of the pretensions of high art and as a satirical dig at the monstrosity of the Riviera high life and its ‘flappers,’ whose raucous, bacchanalian parties carried on into the early hours of dawn.
At the heart of Veglione stands a pair of lovers, captured in the moment just before they kiss and fall into a passionate embrace. Such highly stylized, amorous couples – who would become a favourite leitmotif of Picabia’s within the monstres series – were most often appropriated from contemporary film stills, advertisements, and sentimental postcards sold in abundance in the resorts along the Mediterranean coastline. Repeating the stock poses and narrative elements of these varied, mass-media sources, Picabia parodied the pop-culture of his day, recasting the lovers as mythical, monstrous beings with elongated noses, multiple eyes, and exaggerated, distorted limbs. Here, the graphic quality of the source imagery is transformed through bold swathes of both oil and Ripolin paint, the vibrant colours and vigorous brushwork appearing the polar opposite, pictorially, to the cool machine works of Picabia’s style through the late 1910s. Adorned in layers of colour-saturated stripes, dots, chevrons, zigzags, flowers, streamers, the couple are transformed into a caricature-like image, the bold patterns and decorative motifs deliberately concealing Picabia’s source imagery to conjure a scene that is at once oddly familiar, and yet eerily strange and compelling.
A readily available and relatively cheap commercial paint, Ripolin was marketed to the general public as a do-it-yourself material and had been formulated to allow for easy application, usually to interior walls, doors or radiators. Aware of its provocative potential in a fine art context, Picabia had begun to use Ripolin after the First World War as a means of challenging and undermining the hierarchical nature of painting. Writing about the artist’s use of this unconventional material, Duchamp claimed that it was a thirst for the new, for a fresh way of approaching painting, that drove Picabia to adopt the paint: ‘[his] restlessly inventive spirit leads him to use Ripolin instead of the traditional paint in tubes, which, to his way of thinking, takes on far too quickly the patina of posterity. He likes everything new and the canvases done in 1923, 1924 and 1925 have that newly painted look which preserves all the intensity of the first moment… The gaiety of the titles and his collages of everyday objects shows his impulse to be a renegade, to maintain his position of non-belief in the divinities created far too lightly by the exigencies of society’ (quoted in M.L. Borràs, Francis Picabia, London, 1985, p. 289).
In the present composition, the shiny, bright quality of the Ripolin paint and the unexpected colour combinations create a disquieting effect, underscored by the figures’ deliberately distorted faces. Indeed, the bold, gestural brushwork and quick, cursory treatment of their features create slippages in our reading of the two figures – as the eye moves across the painting, it becomes difficult to discern the outlines of each character, the flowing passages of pigment blurring the details of their appearance. The startling sense of invention and individuality in the monstres series epitomises Picabia’s unique and fiercely individualistic stance towards both life and art – as he later wrote in connection with these works, in his view they were simply the product of ‘a man uninfluenced by anybody, unconcerned about Modernism, Cubism or Dadaism, neither a Socialist nor a Communist, nor yet the contrary: a man who is simply himself… A man in short, going towards a new, as yet undiscovered world: the world of love, which the mediocre have no desire to enter and which frightens the “intellectuals,” because they are afraid of making fools of themselves. Painting for me lies in the pure pleasure of invention. What I would like best of all would be to invent without painting’ (‘Ondulations cérébrales,’ in L’Ere Nouvelle, Paris, 1922, pp. 1-2).
Most immediately, however, Picabia’s radical style and approach to painting was to have an instant and profound influence on Pablo Picasso. During the summer of 1925 Picasso spent a lot of time with Picabia and his family at the beach in Juan-les-Pins, where their children often played together. Clearly impressed by Picabia’s work that summer, Picasso immediately adopted his use of crude paints such as Ripolin and applied the simplistic assemblage-like language of the monstres paintings into the formal logic of his own work. Great paintings from this time such as Picasso’s Les trois danseuses (1925; Tate Modern, London), for example, clearly owe a debt to Picabia’s monstres, while his striking composition Le baiser (1925; Musée national Picasso, Paris) appears to directly echo the central pairing in Veglione. As John Richardson has noted in his extensive biography of Picasso’s life, the early trio of monstres that Picabia created in the winter of 1924-25, and which Picasso most likely saw first-hand later that summer, are a testament to the extraordinary prescience of Picabia’s vision: ‘Fifty years before the advent of Pop, Picabia has used the energy and tawdriness of the Carnival scene – tarnished finery, caked makeup, candy floss hair – to administer a succession of painful shocks to conventional art lovers’ (A Life of Picasso, Vol III: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, London, 2007, p. 291).
Veglione first came to the market in the seminal auction of Picabia’s work held at the Hôtel Drouot in March 1926, in which each artwork was purportedly from Marcel Duchamp’s own personal collection. In reality, the works came from the artist’s own holdings. Staged with his friend’s approval, Duchamp hoped that by highlighting his association with the artist Picabia would gain the critical appreciation and commercial success he deserved. The event amounted to a mid-career retrospective for Picabia, showcasing the divergent and multifaceted directions his art had taken over the previous two decades, from his Impressionist canvases through his Orphist, Machinist and Dadaist phases, ending with his most recent work from the Côte d’Azur. Veglione was purchased from the sale by Hugues Simon, and was later acquired by the influential French art historian and critic Robert Lebel in 1959.

More from The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale

View All
View All