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Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique

Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique
signed and dated 'Picabia 1913' (lower right) and titled 'DANSEUSE ETOILE SUR UN TRANSATLANTIQUE' (upper right)
watercolour and brush and ink with pencil on board
29 ½ x 21 ¾ in. (75 x 55.5 cm.)
Executed in 1913
Guillaume Apollinaire, Paris, a gift from the artist in 1914.
Jacqueline Apollinaire, Chandon, by 1918.
Edmond Bomsel, Paris, until at least 1964.
Simone Collinet, Paris, by 1965 until at least 1979.
Private collection, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995.
M. De Zayas & P. Haviland, A Study of The Modern Evolution of Plastic Expression, New York, 1913 (illustrated n.p.).
A. Stieglitz, ed., Camera Work, New York, Special Number, June 1913 (illustrated pl. VIII).
Letter from Picabia to Guillaume Apollinaire, 20 February 1914, in L. Campa & P. Read, eds., Guillaume Apollinaire, Correspondance avec les artistes 1903-1918, Paris, 2009, p. 643 (letter illustrated p. 644).
Les Soirées de Paris, no. 22, Paris, 15 March 1914, p. 139 (illustrated).
Exh. cat, Francis Picabia, The Arts Council, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1964, no. 9 (with incorrect dimensions).
W.A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His Art, Life, and Times, Princeton, 1979, p. 49 (illustrated fig. 76).
V. Spate, Orphism: The evolution of non-figurative painting in Paris 1910-1914, Oxford, 1979, pp. 325, 336 & 381 (illustrated p. 314, pl. 241).
K. Samaltanos, Apollinaire: Catalyst for Primitivism, Picabia, and Duchamp, Ann Arbor, 1984, pp. 68 & 226.
M.L. Borràs, Picabia, London, 1985, cat. 140, pp. 100, 138 & 507 (illustrated p. 139, fig. 250).
A. Pierre, 'Picabia, danse, musique: une clé pour Udnie', in Les Cahiers du Musée national d'art moderne, no. 75, Paris, Spring 2001, pp. 66 & 67 (illustrated).
W. A. Camfield, B. Calté, C. Clements & A. Pierre, Francis Picabia, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, 1898-1914, New Haven & London, 2014, no. 465, p. 354 (illustrated p. 84, fig. 53 & full page detail illustrated p. 355).
New York, Little Gallery of the Photo-Secession [291], Picabia Exhibition, March - April 1913, no. 3 (as 'A star dancer on a transatlantic steamer').
Paris, Galerie Furstenberg, Francis Picabia, 1879-1953, November - December 1964, no. 10 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie de l'Oeil, L'Ecart absolu. XI Exposition inteRnatiOnale du Surréalisme (EROS), December 1965, no. 71 (illustrated).
Leverkusen, Städtisches Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Picabia, February - April 1967, no. 13 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, April - June 1967.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Francis Picabia, September - December 1970, no. 29 (illustrated p. 74); this exhibition later travelled to Cincinnati, Cincinnati Art Museum, January - February 1971; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, February - April 1971; and Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts, May - June 1971.
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Francis Picabia 1879-1953: mezzo secolo di avanguardia, November 1974 - February 1975, no. 11, p. 50 (illustrated).
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Francis Picabia, January - March 1976, no. 32, pp. 67 & 185 (illustrated).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Futurismi: Futurism & Futurisms, May - October 1986, p. 285 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou, André Breton: La beauté convulsive, April - August 1991, p. 494 (illustrated p. 149); this exhibition later travelled to Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, October - December 1991.
Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém, Francis Picabia, antologia/anthology, June - August 1997, no. 16, p. 87 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Piltzer, Francis Picabia, September - October 1997 (no catalogue).
Berlin, Galerie Brockstedt, Francis Picabia, 1879-1953, October - November 1997 (illustrated n.p.); this exhibition later travelled to Hamburg, Galerie Brockstedt, January - February 1998.
Vence, Galerie Beaubourg, Francis Picabia: classique et merveilleux, July - October 1998, p. 72 (illustrated p. 73).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, Francis Picabia, August - September 1999, no. 9, p. 59 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Fukushima, Iwaki City Art Museum, October - November 1999; and Osaka, The Museum of Art, Kintetsu, January - February 2000.
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and his New York Galleries, January - April 2001, pp. 135-136 (illustrated p. 143, fig. 33).
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Francis Picabia, Singulier idéal, November 2002 - March 2003, p. 156 (illustrated).
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich, Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, June - September 2016, pp. 56 & 342 (illustrated pl. 15); this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Museum of Modern Art, November 2016 - March 2017.
Aix-en-Provence, Musée Granet, Picasso-Picabia: La peinture au défi, June - September 2018, no. 16, p. 270 (illustrated p. 105); this exhibition later travelled to Barcelona, Fundación Mapfre, October 2018 - January 2019, no. 24, p. 252 (illustrated p. 118).
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Olivier Camu
Olivier Camu Deputy Chairman, Senior International Director

Lot Essay

Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique (Star-Dancer on a Transatlantic Liner) is one of Picabia’s most important early paintings. Both an historic and intensely personal work, it derives from the crucial years shortly before the First World War when Picabia was pioneering his own unique brand of post-Cubist abstraction. Like many of these great paintings the picture draws upon themes of dance, music and the body in motion, as well as upon Picabia’s own recent experiences on a transatlantic voyage. The painting was made in New York during the heady days of Picabia’s first dramatic visit to America in 1913. Picabia was in New York at this time to help promote the latest developments in European art at the now legendary Armory Show of 1913. This was where, alongside Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, Picabia’s new ‘abstractions’ helped to provoke the scandal that effectively gave birth to the idea of modern art in America.

A concentration of many of the key themes of Picabia’s work from this period all combined into one lyrical, evocative and colourful abstraction, Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique belongs to a series of abstract watercolours that the artist made on the theme of his recent experiences in America and exhibited in New York at the request of Alfred Stieglitz and his 291 group in March 1913. The inventive and pioneering abstract language that Picabia developed in these watercolours, and in Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique in particular, were subsequently, on Picabia’s return to Paris, to serve as the templates for the creation of the artist’s first two, great, masterpieces: the two, ten-foot square canvases mysteriously entitled Udnie and Edtaonisl, now in the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago respectively, that took centre-stage at the landmark Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1913.

The subject-matter of this pair of abstract masterpieces derives directly from the theme of a ‘star-dancer’ and an ‘ecclesiast’: two figures who have their roots in the story of Picabia’s transatlantic voyage to New York in 1913 and in the two watercolours (Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique and its companion piece Danseuse étoile et son école (Star Dancer and Her School of Dance)) which Picabia made in memory of this voyage on his arrival in New York.

Picabia and his wife Gabrielle Buffet had set sail for New York in January 1913 aboard the transatlantic steamer the Lorraine, where, to Picabia’s disappointment, they were booked into a third-class cabin. During the voyage however, Picabia, by donning his black-tie suit, managed to gain access to the first-class barroom where, to his delight, he found himself amongst a select group of passengers. There, alongside the cigars and the champagne, he was able to enjoy the dance rehearsals of a fellow passenger. This was the then famous dancer and silent movie actress Stacia Napierkowska who was travelling on a dance-tour of New York with her troupe. Of Polish origin, Napierkowska’s risqué dancing and dynamic personality had made her an international sensation. Indeed, so suggestive was her performance that soon afterwards in New York, her tour was to be cancelled and she was to be arrested on a charge of ‘public indecency.’ During his sea-journey Picabia became a regular at Napierkowska’s rehearsals where, to his great amusement, he often found himself in the company of a Dominican priest furtively watching while also trying to conceal his interest. During a prolonged storm that laid most of the other passengers low with sea-sickness, Picabia and Napierkowska came to know each other well, having found themselves among the few on board to remain unaffected.

The personae of the ‘Star Dancer’ (Napierkowksa) and an ecclesiastic priest, were subsequently to become a central and recurring theme in several of Picabia’s most important paintings of the next two years: most notably his two great paintings Udnie and Edtaonisl. Debate still rages as to the meaning of Picabia’s title Udnie – though the subtitle ‘Young American Girl: Dance’ makes its subject-matter quite clear, Edtaonisl by contrast has long been decoded as a sequential fusion of the words ‘Etoil[e]’ and ‘Dans[e]’ and to refer to the ‘Star Dancer’ Napierkowska, while its subtitle (Ecclesiastic) no doubt points to the Dominican priest in her audience. The title ‘Edtaonisl’ also appears in Picabia’s other great painting of 1913, Catch as Catch Can, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

All of these paintings on the theme of the ‘Star Dancer’ reflect a coming together of the two themes of the dance and of religious processions that had distinguished Picabia’s first post-Cubist abstractions of 1912. Mixed with his experience of the modernity of New York, its skyscrapers, automobiles and, in particular, its Afro-American music, Picabia has in these works begun to create a radically pictorial language of abstract and abstracted form. These new works are pictures that fuse such earlier Cubist abstraction and its break-down of phenomenological form with a sense of the dynamic rhythms of the body in motion and through time and space to create a new lyrical abstraction pulsing to a tempo or pictorial structure akin to musical rhythm and determined largely by intuitive painterly impulse. ‘[The pictures] that I have made since my arrival in New York,’ Picabia was to say of this series of works, ‘express the spirit of New York as I feel it, and the crowded streets of your city as I feel them, their surging, their unrest, their commercialism, their atmospheric charm … I absorb these impressions. I am in no hurry to put them on canvas. I let them remain in my brain, and when the spirit of creation is at flood-tide, I improvise my pictures as a musician improvises music’ (‘How New York Looks to Me,’ New York American, March 30, 1913, p. 11).

Of these New York paintings it is the watercolours Picabia made dealing with music and dance that were to point the way in which the great abstract paintings made on his return to Paris would develop. In addition to the two paintings (Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique and Danseuse étoile et son école) referring to Picabia’s encounter with Stacia Napierkowska on board the Lorraine, these New York works also include a series of pictures entitled Chansons nègre. Here, music, rhythm, dance, time, motion, the concept of displacement and of the body travelling through time and space – all the key concepts of Duchamp and Picabia’s abstraction, in fact – become completely interwoven within a lyrical form of abstraction. It is a new pictorial language expressive of an entirely modernist understanding of reality. A language that, similar to the new cinema, attempts to convey a sense of perpetual motion and to fuse moving form, sensation and experience into an entirely original pictorial language that still contains hints and suggestions of representational reality. Some observers, for instance, have detected the image of two ship’s funnels in the centre of Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique.

In the preface to the exhibition of such radically new watercolour abstractions at the 291 Gallery in March 1913, Picabia admitted to the futility of attempting to create a completely non-objective art, but also discouraged attempts to decipher any remnants of representation in his new pictures. ‘The qualitative conception of reality can no longer be expressed in a purely visual or optical manner …,’ he wrote. ‘The resulting manifestations of this state of mind which is more and more approaching abstraction, can themselves not be anything but abstraction… But expression means objectivity otherwise contact between beings would become impossible, language would lose all meaning. This new expression in painting is “The objectivity of a subjectivity.”… Therefore, in my paintings the public is not to look for a “photographic” recollection of a visual impression or sensation, but to look at them in an attempt to express the purest part of the abstract reality of form and colour itself’ (quoted in W. Camfield, Francis Picabia - His Art, Life and Times, Princeton, 1979, pp. 50-1).

Many of the paintings on show at this landmark exhibition at 291 later went into the collection of Alfred Stieglitz and from there to The Art Institute of Chicago. This was not the case with Danseuse étoile sur un transatlantique however, which was kept by Picabia and later presented in 1914 as a gift to his friend and great champion in Paris, Guillaume Apollinaire.

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